Yum Yum, Tootsie Rolls, and Chocolate Bunnies on Motorcycles….A Sweet History of Hoboken

January – December 2011

Buddy Valastro put Hoboken on the national culinary map with his popular TLC cable network show, “Cake Boss,” but did you know that Hoboken has been a confectionary powerhouse since the mid-19th century?

It’s such a rich (and tasty) legacy, the Museum has traced a history of the city from its earliest days through its many commercial bakers, candy manufacturers and family-owned bakeries, including a smorgasbord of different immigrant groups’ food customs. Named for three of Hoboken’s signature treats, the Museum’s exhibit, Yum Yum, Tootsie Rolls, and Chocolate Bunnies on Motorcycles…A Sweet History of Hoboken, opened on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.

Telling the history of a community through its gastronomic traditions may seem a bit unorthodox, but the subject neatly illustrates Hoboken’s dual role as a manufacturing center—because of its transportation links and plentiful labor pool—and as a haven for newly arrived entrepreneurs, who catered to the tastes of their fellow immigrants. In addition to factories, Hoboken boasted many small bakeries and candy makers specializing in their national treats. Before Valastro’s father moved Carlo’s Bakery from Adams St. to Washington St. in 1990, the site opposite City Hall was occupied by German bakeries, first Wordelmann’s (from before World War I) and later Schonings (from 1930). And the 2010 House Tour included a Garden St. building that was once a marzipan factory.

Catering to the great ocean liners that docked in Hoboken, Germans also opened and operated successful commercial bakeries, like John Schmalz’s Sons Inc.’s “Model Bakery” at 8th and Clinton Sts. Established in 1867, it became famous for its Jersey Cream Malt Bread and boasted a production rate of 5,000 loaves in 10 hours. Eventually, the factory became part of the Continental Baking Corporation, which made Wonder Bread at that site and opened a Hostess bakery at 14th and Park, making cupcakes and Twinkies.

On the heels of the Germans, the Italians soon were baking their own delicious crusty bread at family-run bakeries, many of which supplied restaurants, delis, and home kitchens—and a few still do today. The Italians also popularized ice cream and flavored ices, including a flavor called “Yum Yum,” sold from carts throughout the sweltering urban cityscape. One Italian ice cream vendor, Italo Marchiony, who arrived in 1895, invented and patented (in 1903) a waffle cup to solve the problem of carrying fragile glass cups. When he ran out of them at his booth at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, he twisted the thin waffles made by a nearby vendor into a cone shape, and entered the history books!

The heyday of mom-and-pop ice cream parlors, pastry shops and luncheonettes was the early 1900s to the 1950s. A few remain, including Schnackenberg’s, located at 11th and Washington for over 75 years, where the family continues to make chocolate confections by hand, using whimsical molds at Easter, such as a bunny on a motorcycle. Nearby, the Castiello family still makes traditional Italian treats at Giorgio’s Pasticcerie, founded it in 1975. Both businesses have been documented in the Museum’s oral history chapbook series, in conjunction with the Hoboken Public Library.

Many national companies moved factory operations to Hoboken as an economical alternative to New York City. The Sweets Company of America made Tootsie Rolls in a “modern” factory building at 16th and Willow starting in 1938. Kids in Hoboken recall catching candies tossed to them by workers there after school. Other major factories included the R.B. Davis Co., which made baking powder, My-T-Fine puddings and Cocomalt chocolate beverages, and was a major sponsor of the iconic “Buck Rogers” radio show. Franklin Baker Company, maker of Baker’s Coconut and other commercial brands, such as Log Cabin Products, also operated factories in Hoboken.

The exhibit was made possible through funding from the New Jersey Historical Commission, Applied Companies, Wiley & Sons, and Bijou Properties.