Rob Parsons
Special to The Union

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November 19, 2012
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Twinkie trauma eats at Yuba-Sutter as Hostess closes


MARYSVILLE — Greg Levias made a Twinkie run — perhaps his last — Friday afternoon.

“I’m a Twinkie guy, and the cupcakes, but now it’s going to be gone,” said Levias, a Marysville resident.

Like hundreds of other Hostess fans, when Levias heard of the pending nationwide closure of the makers of Twinkies, Sno Balls, Ho Hos and Wonderbread, he put his wife and son in the car and headed for the Bakery Outlet in Yuba City.

Yuba City’s Luke Lindsay reacted the same way, hustling down to the Garden Highway outlet to grab as many boxes of Twinkies and cupcakes as he could get his hands on.

“I hear they last forever,” Lindsay joked. “So I’ll probably throw a few of these in a bug-out bag just in case.”

While customers formed long lines and lamented the loss of the iconic junk food, 13 Yuba City store employees faced the grave prospect of unemployment.

Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of the spongy snack with a mysterious cream filling, said Friday it would shut after years of struggling with management turmoil, rising labor costs and the ever-changing tastes of Americans even as its pantry of sugary cakes seemed suspended in time.

The company employs 1,822 people statewide and about 18,500 across the nation, a company spokesman said.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, said it was saddled with costs related to its unionized workforce. The company had been contributing $100 million a year in pension costs for workers; the new contract offer would’ve slashed that to $25 million a year, in addition to wage cuts and a 17 percent reduction in health benefits.

Management missteps were another problem. Hostess came under fire this spring after it was revealed that nearly a dozen executives received pay hikes of up to 80 percent last year even as the company was struggling. Although some of those executives later agree to reduced salaries, others — including former CEO Brian Driscoll — had left the company by the time the pay hikes came to light.

Then, last week, thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike after rejecting the company’s latest contract offer.

“The crisis facing Hostess Brands is the result of nearly a decade of financial and operational mismanagement that resulted in two bankruptcies, mountains of debt, declining sales and lost market share,” said Frank Hurt, the union’s president. “The Wall Street investors who took over the company after the last bankruptcy attempted to resolve the mess by attacking the company’s most valuable asset — its workers.”

The bakers union represents about 30 percent of the company’s workforce.

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” Hostess Chief Executive Gregory F. Rayburn said in a statement Friday as the company filed a motion to liquidate.

The liquidation hearing will go before a bankruptcy judge Monday afternoon. Hostess has filed for bankruptcy protection twice this decade, the last time in January.

In Yuba-Sutter, delivery drivers made their final rounds Friday.

“I’ll be looking for work,” said a driver who asked not to be named. Employees were ordered not to discuss the closure with the media.

The driver blamed the union representing the company’s bakers.

“We would’ve been fine if they hadn’t gone on strike, but now 18,000 or 18,500 people are out of a job,” he said.

Retail stores, like the one in Yuba City, plan to remain open until Wednesday to sell off remaining products, but if the run on Ding-Dongs continues as it did Friday, stores could close up much sooner than expected.

Levias’ son, Xavier, searched hard for the last Sno Ball, but the coconut-flaked cream-filled cakes were already gone, as was just about every signature Hostess treat.

“Dad, there’s nothing in there — oh, no,” the 8-year-old exclaimed.

Levias suggested the demise of the Hostess empire could be a significant moment in pop-culture history — the great Twinkie Tragedy of 2012.

Hostess products have been the subject of songs, movies and books.

Twinkie consumption was once used as a small part of a now-legendary legal defense during the high-profile 1979 murder trial for Dan White in San Francisco. White was convicted in the deaths of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

The defense was eventually named the “Twinkie Defense.”

In the 2009 Hollywood comedy “Zombieland,” Woody Harrelson’s character, “Tallahassee,” spent much of the zombie apocalypse searching for the last box of Twinkies.

“There’s a box of Twinkies in that grocery store. Not just any box of Twinkies, the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe,” the character explained.

Now, future generations may never experience the famous cream-filled sponge cake, Levias said.

“It does seem like one of those moments in history when you know that future generations won’t know what a Ho Ho is. It’s kind of too bad,” Levias said.

Yes, the Twinkie is dead. Long live the Twinkie.

Maybe.

Some Hostess fanatics hope the brand would sell to another producer and said they would keep the faith like Woody Harrelsons “Zombieland” character when he said: “Oh, this Twinkie thing, it ain’t over.”

Rob Parsons is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact him at rparsons@appealdemocrat.com or (530) 749-4785.

“It does seem like one of those moments in history when you know that future generations won’t know what a Ho Ho is. ”

— Greg Levias,
Marysville


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The Union Updated Nov 19, 2012 01:49PM Published Nov 23, 2012 08:27AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.