Tradition of Twinkies, American jobs on shaky ground - East Valley Tribune: Business

Tradition of Twinkies, American jobs on shaky ground

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012 11:30 am | Updated: 9:39 am, Sun Nov 25, 2012.

At the risk of raising ire from fans and lovers of Hostess snacks, I have to confess: I have never been a fan of Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Zingers or Suzie Q’s. And I would say, outside of eating a package of powdered-sugar doughnuts on rare occasion, I haven’t touched a Twinkie or Hostess cake in more than 30 years. They were just too sweet for me, and I never liked the taste of them.

But, when I was a kid, I bought them. Well, my mom and dad bought boxes of them for me because I wanted them to cut the baseball cards from the bottom of the box that the iconic company printed in the late 1970s. In essence, I was forced to eat them (the snacks, not the cards) simply because my parents told me they weren’t going to buy me anymore until I ate what we had.

However, I will admit when I arrived at the Hostess Bakery Outlet at 816 E. University Drive in Mesa on Tuesday intending to interview customers caught in the Hostess buying craze, I was sad to see that not only were the store’s cupboards bare — but the store closed its doors last Monday.

It’s one of many Hostess stores nationwide closing their doors as it appears the company may go out of business, end the production of its iconic snacks that have been a staple of Americana and store shelves since the 1930s — and eliminate 18,500 jobs with it,

The thought of Hostess going out of business after company officials and its workers could not settle a union contract that included cutting wages for its longtime and dedicated workers for the company to survive, evokes both a sense of loss of an edible and nostalgic piece from our lives and the unsettling loss of American jobs. Hostess officials and its union returned to the negotiating table this week in hopes of reaching an agreement, but no progress has been made.

The thought of having to go without a Twinkie or Hostess treat has caused a range of mixed emotions.

“It sucks,” said Luis Esparza, 30, of Tempe as he was walking out of a Fry’s grocery store on Southern Avenue in Tempe on Tuesday. “It makes me want them more now.”

Until recently, Martinez said he bought about two 20-pack boxes of Twinkies a month for $2.50 from Target where he works, thanks to his 10-percent employee discount.

Now, Esparza fears he might turn into an angry Tallahassee, the character played by actor Woody Harrelson in the 2009 comedy movie, “Zombieland,” who wanted his Twinkie, but got angrier and angrier as he went from store to store not finding it.

“Sometimes, you just want a Twinkie,” Esparza said. “They’re easy to eat, and me and my roommate could grab one and eat them on the run. If they stop making them, it would suck.”

“I used to eat them as a kid, but not anymore,” said Sadie Davis, 28, of Tempe who now is a vegan and was getting ready to shop at Sprout’s in Tempe. “My mom still eats them, though. It’s definitely a piece of nostalgia. I still like seeing them on the shelves. It would be weird not to.”

Greg, an older man who was walking out of Sprout’s with his daughter, said of Twinkies, “They were never good for you. I ate them as a kid, but I never fed them to my kids. The thought of Hostess Twinkies being gone? It’s a sign of the times.”

Dave Martinez, 32, of Tempe, who received a measure of fame when he and his Boston terrier, Dexter, appeared on the Fox Network’s Gordon Ramsey show, “Master Chef” last summer (Martinez finished sixth), was a little more philosophical about Hostess possibly going out of business. He said his education policy and evaluation class discussed the Hostess situation on Monday and felt sympathy for both American workers losing their jobs and part of American pop culture ending.

Martinez said he used to eat Twinkies as a kid and loved Zingers — “I used to attack those (expletive) things; they were the best.” Martinez said he and his friends once got up from eating dinner about four years ago to go to a nearby convenience store to buy some Hostess products for his wife to try for the first time.

“It’s a staple of Americana,” Martinez said of Hostess. “I think it’s sad because something like that could be gone because of the price of someone’s economic worth. If 18,500 people lose their jobs, there’s nowhere for those people to go as meager as those jobs are. Times are tough.”

If Hostess officials and workers cannot reach an agreement, sweet-snack lovers just may have to turn to other brands baking similar treats, such as Little Debbie snacks.

Some people also scoffed at the unlikelihood of such a big business going out of business after receiving tons of free publicity across the nation as Twinkies reportedly pull in $2 billion a year, according to national media reports.

As Bob Williams of Mesa checked out at the University Farmer’s Market in Mesa next to the recently-closed Hostess Bakery Outlet, the retired heavy equipment operator from long-closed Marathon Steel in Tempe, said he has always eaten Twinkies and specifically, loved it when Hostess used to fill Twinkies with banana cream back in the day.

“This was a ploy by the company to get the workers to lower its wages,” Williams, 72, believes. “Look at all the publicity the company got out of this. I can live without them, but at my age, I can live without anything. I don’t think Twinkies are going away. We’ll all be eating them in a couple of weeks.”

And I hope for all the Twinkies and Hostess sweet-snack lovers, that’s true.

But in the meantime, I think I’ll sit down and eat a Little Debbie creme-filled oatmeal cookie.

After all, Little Debbies are cheaper and taste better.

At least I think so.

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