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Sweet History

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

--as published in the Asheville Citizen Times, November 14, 2018



It all started in August of 2015, just outside of Marion, North Carolina.


Showcasing a theft-preference most would call, “A few clowns short of a circus”, a desperate, well-organized criminal pulled up to the Economy Mini-Storage in a sleek, deep black SUV, towing a large cargo trailer. Cutting a hole in the fence, the suspect—apparently not a diabetic—shimmied through, located the Little Debbie box truck that had been parked there over the weekend, clipped the lock off with a pair of bolt cutters and had their way with 65-cases of snack cakes, moving every single sugar-laden snack into the getaway trailer.


Before you could say, “Frosted Fudge Cakes”, the suspect had driven off into the night... with only blurred video footage and a few crumbs left in their thieving-wake. Still at-large, the police offered a reward for his/her arrest—and for the return of $3,181.75 worth of mostly corn syrup and Polysorbate 60.


Miss Little Debbie

As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, a similar incident occurred in 2017, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Once again, with Little Debbies stashed securely inside a mini-storage facility, the suspect(s) absconded with a trailer full of Zebra Cakes, Oatmeal Creme Pies and Nutty Buddy Wafer Bars—this time, not bothering to move the high-caloric treasures to another vehicle, but stealing the whole shebang.


And finally, a few months later, just outside Spartanburg, South Carolina, another identical heist unfolded. Parked—you guessed it—in a mini-storage facility, 40-cases of Little Debbie snack cakes went missing from a distributers truck.


Not only does this smack of injudiciousness (why didn't someone tell these drivers to stop tempting mini-storage renters with snack cakes?), it also hints at a larger, coordinated conspiracy--plotting these heists on a map, places Collegedale, Tennessee--where the McKee Foods Corporation crafts these heart attacks--snack-dap in the center.


If this is not a real-life script for the next cheesy Oceans 11-installment, I don’t know what is.


Intrigue aside, whoever masterminded these provocative larcenies undoubtedly had no idea they would provide a decent segue for a history lesson…


 

The year was 1812, Britain and France were at war and due to pesky trade blockades and unprovoked attacks on American merchant ships, the new American nation had chosen to declare war on Britain.


All too glad to seek Revolutionary-War-revenge, Britain promptly stormed North America in hopes of destroying its resources and embarrassing its president. By 1814, a significant blow was forthcoming.


Having overcome American forces around the Washington capital, British forces advanced on the White House with the intent of burning it to the ground. As President James Madison and his cabinet gathered up important papers before they skedaddled, the president’s wife—Dolley Madison, a well-liked socialite and hostess—managed to secure several valuable pieces of presidential memorabilia, including a prized painting of George Washington.


For this effort, Dolley became a national heroine.


The beautiful Dolley Madison (with dew rag).

At the completion of the war (a stalemate at best), Dolley returned her treasures to the burned-out White House and, after its restoration, resumed her entertaining. Born into a Quaker family in New Garden, North Carolina (a defunct town located within present-day Greensboro), Dolley would be remembered for her savvy rescue and her famous desserts. She was particularly well-known for her cinnamon cakes and gingerbread.


Fast forward to 1937. A baker by the name of Roy Nafziger had developed a fascination with Dolley and her high-class snacks. Using the tagline “Cakes and pastries fine enough to serve at the White House,” Roy created the Dolly Madison brand—dropping the “e” for ease of spelling—which produced such upscale favorites as Zingers and Cinnamon Coffee Cakes.


Eventually, Nafziger’s bakery--through a long series of mergers, name changes, bankruptcies and corporate take-overs--became the sugar-filled giant, Hostess Bakery Company, of Twinkie fame.


In 2012, a sad year for North Carolina, Hostess decided to retire the Dolly Madison brand (goodbye Zingers!). And—as if this story isn’t convoluted enough—in 2013, Hostess claimed bankruptcy and sold one of its other brands (Drake’s Cakes, maker of the wonderful Ring Dings, not to be confused with Ding Dongs) to McKee Foods (remember?, they make Little Debbies). Meanwhile, most of the remaining Hostess brands were bought by a corporation called AGM, who renamed the company Hostess Brands.


For clarity, you may need to re-read the above paragraph three times.


 

Now that you’ve wrapped your mind around all this, you still might be a tad hazy on how our aforementioned snack-cake-criminals and First Lady Dolley are connected.


Let me shed some sweet light.


Artist's rendition of thief stealing Little Debbies.

Back in 2015, it is my firm belief that our aforementioned snack cake criminals, aware of the Zingers demise, began to speculate about the possibility of another pastry brand Dolly-Madisoning (a bakery term for pastry extinction). Having studied corporate mergers and snack cake sales, they believed that Little Debbie--like Dolly Madison--was on the verge of disappearing from the shelves. In their savory minds, pilfering and stock-piling Little Debbie snack cakes would create a black market monopoly for an addicted populace, who would gladly pay top-dollar for their daily afternoon binge. Result? They would become lip-smacking rich.


Unfortunately for our felons—and for dieting Snack Cake Anonymous members everywhere—Dolly Madison was eventually returned to the shelves (Hostess Brands revived the product mid-2018) and Zingers, along with Little Debbie Snack Cakes, continued to grace the shelves. Their plot was foiled (which may—or may not—explain why these sugary heists eventually stopped).


How did I piece all this together? Believe me, three HoHo’s after midnight do wonders for the brain.


But more to the point, thanks to Dolley Madison (the President’s wife), North Carolina can proudly claim some sort of ownership to the ubiquitous Zinger, a hapless gang of snack thieves, and a disheveled painting of George Washington.


And—lest we be sexist—let’s not fail to mention, Madison County, North Carolina is named after Dolley’s husband, James Madison, the fourth president of the United states (no one seems to know why 1851 Carolina county-namers were particularly fond of President Madison, but some suspect it had something to do with snack cakes).


Sweet history!


--Ben Fortson


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