Everybody’s talking about the second coming of Twinkies these days, but for those of us who grew up in the New York City area during the 1960s and 1970s, Drake’s is the real-deal return of snack cakes—even for those of us who now try to avoid junk food.
Hostess Twinkies are slated to return on July 15. Drake’s, meanwhile, has been snapped up by longtime Hostess rival McKee Foods, Collegedale, Tenn., which makes Little Debbie snacks. McKee said that Drake’s cakes should be back by “late summer/early fall.”
Legendary baker of Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, Yodels, Funny Bones, Yankee Doodles and Coffee Cakes, Drake’s was once enjoyed only in Northeast states, but then went national and came to have a Kansas City connection in the 1990s.
Founded in 1888 in Brooklyn by Newman Drake, the company finally settled in Wayne, N.J., but changed hands many times before ultimately ending up with ITT Continental Baking Company, Hostess’ parent.
Largely unknown outside of the Northeast until the 1990s, the Drake’s product line received national exposure on the sitcom Seinfeld, most notably the episode “The Suicide” in 1992. Later in the 1990s, television talk show host Rosie O’Donnell professed a fondness for them, sharing the cakes with her audience members on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Drake’s coffee cake is mentioned in the movie A Bronx Tale, where a gang member’s nickname is coffee cake because of his face’s resemblance to the snack.
At its peak, Drake’s bakery operations spread to thirteen states. In New York City and New England, Drake’s popularity came to rival national brand Hostess. In New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, Drake’s cakes compete head-to-head with that area’s popular Tastykake brand.
Drake’s was acquired by the Canadian company Culinar, Inc., in 1991. In 1998 Culinar sold Drake’s to Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, Mo., which had previously acquired ITT/CBC and its Hostess and Wonder brands. The combined company was rebranded Hostess Brands in 2009, and then fell into bankruptcy in 2011.
After the Interstate Brands acquisition, Drake’s and Hostess operations were combined in the New York City area. The two brands shared the same trucks, delivery routes and store racks. Some Hostess cakes distributed in the Northeast, such as Twinkies and Ding Dongs, were produced at the Drake’s bakery and bore a kosher certification symbol in those areas.
McKee Foods, which paid Hostess $27.5 million for the Drake’s brand, says it will start with a selection of Drake’s products, including Ring Dings, Yodels, and Devil Dogs, and see whether to bring back more—such as Yankee Doodles, Funny Bones, Coffee Cakes and Fruit Pies. McKee is using its own baking plants to make Drake’s cakes but says that no changes will be made to the recipes to streamline production—making Drake’s “exactly to the recipes we received in the acquisition.”
In this examiner’s opinion Drakes always baked better snake cakes than Hostess—at least until Interstate Brands bought them. Hostess tried to copy Drakes, cake by cake—Ding Dongs for Ring Dings, Ho-Hos for Yodels, etc. A former Master Baker at Interstate Brands, here in Kansas City, once told this examiner that Interstate Brands could never figure out how to replicate the baking process of Drake’s cakes.