Drake's Cakes booted from Florida?!
Sat, 11/12/05 10:26 AM
I am a long time Drakes fan from NYC. I grew up on both Drakes and Hostess, of course. I never really payed attention to which cakes were which brand. But I loved the big Swiss Rolls back then (which still make periodical appearances today, and were split into two smaller rolls for several years in the 80's), and the Strawberry or Banana Shortcakes (their fake Twinkies filled with flavored cream, and there was chocolate also). It was 21 years ago, when I went to college in Norfolk, Va; I soon began noticing something missing in the stores. You could find Twinkies but not Devil Dogs, or Yankee and Sunny Doodles, or the other cakes I mentioned above. Next to the red Hostess rack, was a blue rack of cakes (evoking what you would see in NY corner stores), but these cakes were TastyKakes. (Then, you had Flowers, which in NY was distributed under various brand names, but used primarily Beebo in their own operations back then; and Little Debbie, which I had never heard of, but would appear in NY the following year).
I then realized that it was the Drake's brand that was missing, and searched the whole area for them, but found only the same stuff.
After doing some research, even contacting the company when I came home, I found that they only operated in 13 states, bsically from Maine to the DC area, and then jumped to Florida. The reason they were in Fla. was because of all the New Yorkers; especially Jews, who went down there to retire. (Drake's was just about the only kosher cake back then (next to Little Debbie and most of TastyKake, while Hostess and the others were still using lard, and even the beef fat they still use is against the kosher law).
So it was nice to know that there was at least one far away part of the south that Drakes were in. I found that when you cross the Hudson, Drakes are not as prevalent as in NYC and New England. In the DC area, they were really only in supermarkets. There was a brief expansion to California, and they were carried by one distributor in one supermarket chain (Von's), but when this person died, that folded. Then, the operations south of Delaware folded. I had been told by a college roomate one year ahead of me, that Drakes had been in the Hampton Roads area right before I got down there (based out of Newport News), but that of course folded.
I finally got to see them in Florida in 1991 and 1992. They still seemed to be in supermarkets only, though I did see them in a Key West convenience store, along with a couple of TastyKakes, which otherwise didn't seem to go past North Carolina.
Now cut to this past week, when I make a trip down to Orlando. This is in the age of the great IBC merger of Hostess/Drake's/Dolly Madison/Merita/Mickey/Wonder. I see most of these other products, but not Drakes. I find the big Merita plant and thrift store not too far from downtown, and none there. Just like being back in Virginia. The sales lady tells me that they had just stopped receiving them this week. They would have been delivered Tues. They just did not sell enough. (Even with the low marked down thrift store prices!) This was in 90% of Florida. She said that in her opinion, they were too dry, and I just saw someone else mention this on this board. That is one thing that made them so unique to me. The Hostess and Dolly Madison chocolate always seemed too rich amd moist. The TastyKake and chocolate tasted a bit different, but it too was too rich. The Drakes' chocolate was just right, and was nicer after a few days. For a while last year, they were apparently using Hostess style chocolate on the Yankee Doodles and Devil Dogs, and it just was not as good. Then, they changed it back, thankfully.
It seems every time they try to expand, it fails. It seems everyone is so used to the richer, moister chocolate, that Drakes just cannot grow on them, and every time they try to expand, it doesn't work out. They were supposedly in other parts of the south now, like Georgia, but I don't know how they are doing there. But if they seem to be failing in Florida, where they have been for a long time, then it doesn't seem to look good elsewhere, and it seems they are destined to be primarily a NYC/New England novelty. I always thought they were good enough to be national just like Hostess. Growing up here, they were just as much as a household name, and it was variety. But it seems elswehere, it is mostly monotony, though Little Debbie is different, and has spread like wildfire. Their Devil Twins, which they have rounded off to look just like Devil Dogs are even drier! (though I don't seem to see them elsewhere).
I always thought they should be given a better chance, by among other things, being sold in convenience stores more. With the merger, perhaps replace Dolly Madison nationwide, or package them under the Dolly Madisson label, since Dolly's primary cake, the Zingers, appears under the Hostess brand, and most of Dolly's other products parallel's Hostess.
I guess they must have never done really well in Florida either, but under their own operations, they continued to ship frozen cakes down there to whoever ordered them, but now under IBC, who I was told gets them from Rocky Mount, NC and does not ship them frozen, this is no longer profitable?
Any thoughts? Any more knowledge on the subject? Anything Drake's fans can do?