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Lunchbox Snacks of YesterYear: Drake's Cakes

Thank you for sticking through my last post, where we took a VERY in-depth look at Hostess.  It was long, but, having read it back to myself several times, I think it was very worth the time and effort I put into it, and I hope you think so too! 

Nevertheless, we're back for another edition of Lunch Box Snacks of YesterYear, this time featuring Drake's Cake!  

I mentioned in the announcement for the Lunchbox series that the Fruit Pie is my all-time favorite snack made by these companies.  I must admit, I lean toward preferring the Hostess one's taste, but I'm a bigger fan of Drake's size and shape.  The Hostess pie is one big empanada half-moon shaped pie.  Drake's is two little square ones.  Having two small snacks instead of one, regardless that it's the same amount altogether, I lean towards picking up a Drake's while I can.

Some of you may be asking, "What's a Drake?"  No, not "The Drake" on "Seinfeld" that made Jerry exclaim that he "HATES THE DRAKE!"  Although Drake's Cake does connect to the classic NBC sitcom, and I'll touch on it later.

Drake's Cake is a rival company of Hostess and the like that was primarily marketed in the Northeastern United States but some 10 or 15 years ago began expanding to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern United States.  

For a while, the Drake's Apple Fruit Pie (and all of their other snacks) had packaging that even read "Drake's by Hostess"!  What?!  How'd that happen?

Well, let's find out together, shall we?

Newman E. Drake got his start in the baking business with a local baker of crackers and cookies named Vanderveer & Holmes Biscuit Company in 1879.  While traveling internationally in England on business in around 1893, he noticed baked cakes were being sold in grocery stores and decided to bring this idea back to the United States.  He left Vanderveer & Holmes a few years later to create his own business.

The N. E. Drake Baking Company was established in 1896 on 135th Street in Harlem, New York City.  At first, the company produced various kinds of pound cakes, which became instant local hits.  Newman's youngest brother Judson worked beside him for several years before leaving in 1898 for the National Biscuit Company. 

By March of 1898, ads featured Drake's pound cakes stating the products were baked fresh daily and sold for 17 cents per pound.  In 1900, they featured Drake's layer cakes with chocolate or vanilla icing for 18 cents.  The ads even claimed that Drake's cake's price was half of what it would cost to bake at home.  

While these advancements were occurring at N.E. Drake Baking Company, there was an industry consolidation occurring in the cracker and biscuit company.  In 1898, the three major players in nationwide cracker and biscuit making consolidated into one large enterprise, the National Biscuit Company, the same one that Judson Drake joined later that year.  We now know the National BIscuit Company today as NABISCO.  The National Biscuit Company purchased N.E. Drake Baking in 1900 and continued baking cakes and other goods until dissolving the company in late 1902.  

After N. E. Drake Baking Company was dissolved, The National Biscuit Company continued using Drake's Harlem bakery until 1908, but the products were sold under different brand names, such as Regina, Imperial, and Golden Glory Cakes.  

On December 4, 1902, the business was reestablished by Newman Drake as the Drake Brothers Company, alongside his brother Charles and brother-in-law Frank Vreeland.  They began operating out of a bakery in Wallabout Market in Brooklyn, New York, with Newman as President and Charles as Vice-President.  Newman's sons John and Walter worked as bakers in the Brooklyn plant while his third son, Arthur, worked in sales.  

By April 1904, the new bakery was servicing over 1,000 stores in Brooklyn and extended to the surrounding states.  In 1905, the company expanded to a bakery in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood with another son, Harold, as the manager.  

Around this time, the Drake Brothers began an annual sales recognition dinner that would eventually become grand affairs at expensive steak houses, with tuxedoed attendees and monetary awards for sales performance.  In 1909, the company also commissioned ragtime piano music titled "Drake's Cake Walk."

In May 1913, Drake Brothers announced that they would build a new five-story bakery on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn. In a fairly ingenious move, the ovens were placed on the top floor to allow the heat to escape.  There was also a rooftop garden, a relatively new idea in terms of employee happiness, that served as a break area.  

The Drake Brothers were recognized in the early 1920s as a leader in advertising and branding efforts.  Most of their products of the time were sold by the pound, making their baked goods vulnerable to substitution on the retail level.  Drake Brother's implemented a plan to stop this by making pan liners perforated with the brand name so that the product would be identifiable by a customer.  Drake's heavily advertised this feature.

In 1924, the company incorporated under the name Drake Bakeries, Inc.  Ralph Ward, grandson of the founder of Ward Baking Company, took over as President of the company.  If you'll remember from the article about Hostess, Ward would eventually become Continental Baking and introduce the Hostess brand that developed direct competitor products to Drake's before outright owning Drake's in 1998.  But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.  To read about Continental Baking history, please go back and check out my Hostess article HERE.  

In 1925, always with an eye on marketing, Drake's began including a series of collectible baseball cards, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, with Drake's brand information and advertising on the back.  This card tradition continued for decades before being phased out around the turn of the century. 

In 1926, the trademark was filed for Devil Dogs, two Devil's Food chocolate cakes separated by vanilla creme filling.  To this day, Devil Dogs are Drake's biggest seller.  In 1928, Yankee Cake Company of Providence, Rhode Island, began selling Yankee Doodles, a chocolate cupcake with creme filling and no icing.  In 1937, Drake's began advertising the Yankee Doodles under their own brand, signaling the company's acquisition.  This was first publically referenced for the first time in 1940 in an article that described Yankee Cake Company as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Drake Bakeries.  

In 1929, Drake's started advertising that products would soon be wrapped in cellophane.  The cellophane would allow shoppers to see what they were buying and would "seal-in" the flavor.  In December 1930, Drake's Coffee Cakes were first sold.  

In 1933, Drake Bakeries, Inc. expanded with a new bakery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The once small bakery from Brooklyn had now expanded as far north as Boston and as far south as Philadelphia, with many bakeries in between.  The company hummed along over the next few years only to face a production slow down during World War II due to sugar and shortening rationing.

In January of 1958, Drake's introduced a ring-shaped Devil's Food Chocolate cake with a vanilla creme filling called the Ring Ding.  A few years later, in April of 1961, they introduced the Funny Bone, a Devil's Food Chocolate cake filled with a peanut butter flavored cremeThe next year, in August of 1962, Drake's launched Yodels, a chocolate cake with a swirl of vanilla creme.    

In October of 1964, the company launched my favorite of their snacks, the Fruit Doodle.  You may know it now as Drake's Fruit PiesIn what I would consider a good decision, they changed the Fruit Doodle's name to Fruit Pie in the early 70s.  

Starting in 1981, Drake's held a contest for consumers to name their long-time duck mascot.  The winning name was "Webster."  

On July 1, 1986, Ralston-Purina Company announced the acquisition of Drake Bakeries, Inc. for $115 million.  In the announcement, Ralston stated Drakes would be part of their Continental Baking Company subsidiary.  This announcement immediately faced legal trouble as Tasty Baking Company filed a successful antitrust lawsuit, preventing Ralston from holding Drake's and Hostess.  As a result, Ralston Purina agreed to sell Drake's to a private group led by Drake's management and financially supported by Rock Capital Partners, a fund run by John D. Rockefeller's descendants.

In September of 1987, the new Drake's management announced that the salesmen would be required to purchase their routes or lose their jobs in cost savings to the company that promised an increase in earnings for the salespeople.  Union officials, and the sales folk, were very unhappy with this development.

In April of 1988, the company held a celebration to mark the company's 100th anniversary by cutting a 500-pound giant Ring Ding.  Unfortunately, the company had been founded in 1896, not 1888, and the celebration was eight years too soon.  

Rock Capital Partners sold Drake's to Culinar, Inc. for $35 million in 1990.  Culinar was, at the time, a large Canadian food company from Montreal that sold the popular Canadian cake, Vachon.

Culinar wasted little time in right-sizing the Drake's company.  They focused on improving the bakery operation into greater production and cost-efficiency.  They gained compensation and work-rule concessions from the employee's unions and quickly reconfigured sales and delivery routes to eliminate waste.
August 16, 1998, Culinar completed the sale of Drake's to Interstate Bakeries Corporation.  To read about Interstate Bakeries' long history, please read my Hostess article HEREInterstate added Drake's to their product line, right next to Hostess.  It has been reported that Interstate paid about $80 million for Drake's, a $45 million increase in what Culinar had paid for the company just eight years prior. 

During this period, Drake's products had the graphics "Drake's by Hostess" on all of its packaging (see above).  Hostess Brands, Inc, the new name for Interstate, filed for bankruptcy in January of 2012, leading to a  long media whirlwind about the loss of the Twinkie, Wonder Bread, and locally here in New York, the Devil Dog.  The company didn't recover from a work agreement voted down by the employee group and filed liquidation in November.   

McKee Foods Corporation bid on the Drake's brand in April of 2013.  The offer was accepted, and McKee bought the brand for $27.5 million, later reintroducing Drake's top-selling items in September of 2013.

McKee Foods was created during the Great Depression by O.D. and Ruth McKee.  O.D. began selling cakes in the Chattanooga area out of the backs of his car before purchasing Jack's Cookie Company.  O.D. continued to look for ways to expand but, his father-in-law did not share his belief he would succeed, so he sold the company and started over.  After moving away for some years, they returned to Chattanooga and created McKee Baking Company in 1962.

In 1960, the McKees decided to name a product after one of their grandchildren.  You may have heard of her, and she's made the McKee family pretty famous (and rich.)  She was 4 year old Debbie McKee.  Better known as Little Debbie to her family and the rest of the world.  Debbie McKee-Fowler still serves on the company board as Executive Vice President.  

Many years later, in 2013, they purchased Drake's Cakes from the dying Hostess brand.  

Things have been pretty stable for Drake's since its purchase by McKee.  The company has advertised it is once again a "family-owned" company, a reference to McKee being family-owned and operated.  One small hiccup occurred when in 2017, without warning, McKee stopped the production on Drake's Coffee Cakes.  One of the biggest sellers, with a pretty rabid fan following, the loss of the Coffee Cakes caused an uproar online with Drake's Cake fans.  In July of 2018, McKee announced that they had heard their customers and again began producing the Coffee Cakes.  

At the start of this article, I mentioned Drake's was a mostly regional brand in the North East United States.  McKee Foods has done an excellent job of expanding the brand into the Midwest and the Southern United States.  

Over the years, Drake's has become synonymous with the hit TV show "Seinfeld." Both Jerry and co-creator Larry David are New York guys, and it stands to reason they have a fond spot for the "local" snack.  At the start of this article, I mentioned the "Hate the Drake" line from the episode titled "The Handicap Spot" from season Four.  In that episode, Jerry and the gang buy a big screen tv as an engagement present to their friend Scott Drake, referred to as "The Drake."  Throughout the episode, they say "Love the Drake" or "Hate the Drake," depending on how they feel for him in the moment.  The name "The Drake" is a funny coincidence, but given that the actual Drake's Cake is referenced multiple times in the show as well, it stands to reason it was a play on the snack company.  

In Season Three episode titled "The Suicide," from January of 1992, Jerry's neighbor attempts suicide and lays in the hospital in a coma.  The neighbor's girlfriend begins flirting with Jerry at the hospital, and Jerry's antagonistic neighbor Newman is aware.  To buy his silence, Jerry tempts him several times with "Drake's Coffee Cakes."  In a Season Five episode titled "The Dinner Party," the gang is invited to a dinner party.  Annoyed that he has to bring a gift for the hosts, George Costanza suggests bringing Ring Dings and a Pepsi.  This was the famous "chocolate babka" episode where Jerry and Elaine spend most of the time in line at a local bakery and end up purchasing a "lesser babka."  

Much like my Hostess article (again, click HERE), I'd like to review the companies current offerings as well as some defunct snacks from YesterYear we all remember fondly.

Drake's Cakes currently produce:

  • The Devil Dog (Two Devil's Food Chocolate Cakes with Vanilla Creme Filling)
  • Ring Dings (Chocolate Dipped Ring Shaped Devil's Food Chocolate Cakes with Vanilla Creme)
  • Yodels (A "Classic" Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Roll with Vanilla Creme Swirl)
  • Yankee Doodles (Devil's Food Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Creme Center)
  • Alpine Yodels (Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Creme Swirl Dipped in Vanilla Frosting)
  • Cookies and Creme Brownies (Brownie with Vanilla Icing and Chocolate Cookie Crumble)
  • Mini Pound Cakes (Miniature Sized Pound Cake Slices)
  • Fudged Dipped Devil Dogs (Fudge Dipped Devil's Food Chocolate Cakes with Vanilla Creme)
  • Funny Bones (Chocolate Covered Devil's Food Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Creme)
  • Coffee Cakes (Moist Traditional Breakfast Cake)
  • Fruit Pies (Flaky Pastry Filled with Apple or Cherry Fruit Filling)
  • Donut Delites (Frosted or Powdered Mini-Donuts)
  • Honey Buns (Glazed Breakfast Pastry)

Just like my Hostess article (click HERE if you haven't read it yet) I'd like to honor some of the cakes and snacks Drake's once made but no longer sell that will always have a place in my Lunchbox of YesterYear.

Zoinks!  A great name, immediately I think of Shaggy in "Scooby-Doo," was Drake's version of Hostess' Twinkie.  Originally called just Shortcakes by Drake's, the line was briefly resurrected in 2013 by McKee Foods when they transformed the Little Debbie's Cloud Cakes into a Drake's product.  Cool name and a classic product.  

Sunny Doodles - Anything vanilla is typically a departure for Drake's, so that makes this one special.  The Sunny Doodle was a vanilla version of the Yankee Doodle.  These vanilla cupcakes have an adorable name and came in vanilla creme-filled or various fruit-flavored fillings, like strawberry or cherry.  

Pick-M-Ups - These little puff pastries were filled with fruit filling like apple, raspberry, or strawberry with a dash of creme filling.  

Cookies, Muffins, and Danish Pastries - These classic pastries, in various flavors, were offered by Drake's for years.  It seems that fairly recently, around 2016 or so, when McKee Foods quietly pulled Coffee Cakes, they removed these brands from Drake's as well and only make them under the Little Debbie banner now.  

Speaking of Little Debbie, please stay tuned to YesterYear Retro for our next edition of "Lunchbox Snacks of YesterYear" as we give Drake's sister company Little Debbie a closer look!  


  1. What about the Boston Cremes? My friend and I remember those from the 90s but cannot find any info on them! They were like bigger ring dings with golden cake and Boston crème filling

  2. Hi! I couldn't find anything about Drake's Boston Cream... But I did find some from Little Debbies. Was this possibly it?

  3. I remember a cupcake that Drakes made in the 1960’s that was a round cup cake that was completely covered in chocolate and it came in a pack of two. I cannot find any evidence of this but somehow I recollect thus from my childhood. Am I delusional or did these cupcakes actually exist? It wasn’t a ring ding. A cupcake like a Hostess cupcake that was completely covered in chocolate. Thanks in advance for answering.

    1. Was it the Creme Cup?

  4. Drake's made a Cupcake similar to the Hostess squiggle Cupcake back in the early 80's but I cant find any info or pics of its existence. Anyone else remember?!

  5. Yes! My husband and I have just spent a half hour on the deck trying to recall and find this! Thanks’

    1. I couldn't find it either. Encased in a darker chocolate. Liked better than hostess. Airier cupcake. Better filling. Before ring dings. People think I am crazy. Believe they were 70's and 80's.

  6. I remember this cupcake too! I even remember the commercial where in slo-mo the cupcake is completely covered in chocolate.

  7. Who remembers Drakes use to make a big crumb cake that came in a box, and the devil dogs that came individually wrapped in like a wax paper and sold individually in the 60s??