ORLANDO – When the news hit John Paonessa, he instantly knew it was going to have an impact on his business, potentially depriving his customers of something that he gets request for on a daily basis.
“It’s our most popular dessert,” he said.
Paonessa is the owner of Hamburger Mary’s, the restaurant at Church Street Station at 110 W. Church St. in downtown Orlando, which in addition to hosting Bingo nights, drag shows and cabarets also features a popular item on the menu: Fried Twinkies.
Problem is, Hamburger Mary’s may soon be losing a key ingredient for making it: Twinkies themselves.
“If they’re not available, we have no choice” but to pull it off the menu, Paonessa told Freeline Media.
“Mary relives her youth with this treat,” the menu notes in describing Fried Twinkies, which are deep-fried, then served with strawberry sauce, whipped cream and powdered sugar. As Paonessa noted, Hamburger Mary’s has been serving this delectable delight for decades.
“We’ve been here almost five years, and we’ve always had it,” he said. “The (Hamburger Mary’s) company is 40 years old this year, so they’ve been doing it for even longer.”
But now the restaurant chain is up against a big hurdle: the possible demise of the Twinkie, a snack cake owned by Hostess Brands and marketed as a “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling.”
Invented in Illinois in 1930 by baker James Alexander Dewar, the snack cake has fallen on hard times this year. On May 4, Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On Nov. 16, Hostess officially announced that it “will be winding down operations and has filed a motion with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking permission to close its business and sell its assets, including its iconic brands and facilities. Bakery operations have been suspended at all plants.”
That’s prompted a mad rush among some people to stock up on Twinkies now that the snack product is no longer being produced – a move that Paonessa said he doesn’t plan to imitate anytime soon.
“Production has already stopped, and I’ve heard of people trying to sell them on eBay, which is ridiculous,” he said.
The Fried Twinkie will remain on the restaurant’s menu for now, he said, because the restaurant buys the snack cake in bulk and have enough to last a while.
“I’ve got a good supply of it now, so at this point I don’t have to raise the price to $25,” he said. The Fried Twinkie dessert — which the menu calls “OMG – fabulous!” — now sells for $6.95.
“We go through them so quickly, we don’t have to worry about the expiration date,” he said.
But he’s not sure what the next step is.
“We did try making it ourselves, but it was tragic,” Paonessa said, adding that his chefs couldn’t quite capture whatever it is that Hostess does so well.
“Whatever they do in the production process makes it a great candidate for frying,” Paonessa said.
He’s hoping another manufacturer starts making Twinkies if Hostess disappears altogether.
“We’re pretty confident someone will buy the brand and keep it going,” he said.
Because after all, those Fried Twinkie desserts at Hamburger Mary’s have demonstrated such a lasting appeal of this tasty treat, he added.
“I think it’s the Twinkie name and the sweetness of it,” he said. “”It’s almost like a donut. You have that hot freshness to it.”
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