English muffins fly under the radar. I’m not sure why. Maybe because they are denizens of the morning, generally, among the first foodstuffs we confront in that awkward hour between sleep and work. Maybe because English muffins are humble, stolid, reliable.
And therefore unsung. Chicagoans can prattle on about pizza, harangue endlessly over hot dogs, even occasionally acknowledge that Chicago is, or was, the center of the candy universe, turning out everything from Baby Ruth bars to Lemonheads.
But English muffins are denied their due.
I’ve just searched the Sun-Times going back to 1948, and the Tribune and Daily News back even further, and found only a handful of stories mentioning that George Bay set to baking his grandmother’s English muffin recipe here in 1933, delivering his circular delights in paper bags to Loop hotels and restaurants.
Which bugs me since, most mornings—say five out of every seven—start with a toasted Bays English muffin, preferably Cinnamon Raisin, and a whole grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, using bites of the former as a reward for getting down segments the latter. It’s not that I don’t like grapefruit, I do, exceedingly. But next to an English muffin ... well, that’s like comparing a carrot with a brownie.
You would think the world of English muffins is fairly static, and it is. But about six months ago, there was an earthquake: Bays introduced resealable packaging, with a big window that opens and closes, like Oreo cookie packages. Previously opening an orange and white package of Bays required both ingenuity and effort. The packages were not bread bags, which could be opened and closed with a twist tie. But cellophane—perhaps a hold-over to when Bays introduced cellophane-windowed boxes in 1938. Try tearing one open and you’d end up ripping a gash halfway across the package, exposing your delicate muffins to the cruel refrigerator air. A rend I’ve repaired with Scotch tape. Trying to avoid this, I took to carefully cutting the end off with scissors and then covering the opening with a baggie, using that as a cap for the next three muffins, then transferring the last two muffins into the baggie.
Bays is proud of this new packaging. “NOW RESEALABLE” a sticker proclaims. As well they should; a big improvement, and I couldn’t help but imagine, as the mornings ran on, the unheralded moment of epiphany: some humble employee, deep within the vast Bays English Muffin operation, stepping into the path of a higher up. “M...M...Mr. Bay, I’m sorry, I can hold my silence no longer. These cellophane packages are ... a nuisance. Here, I’ve been working on this improved packaging system, in my spare time of course....”
Unheralded ... unless I could find him. Or her.
“It started with our consumers,” said Jill Matthews, director of marketing, innovation and strategy for Bays, no longer family owned but since 2017 a division of Grupo Bimbo. “We are so grateful to have a very loyal base of longtime Bays fans. They’ve been in love with our Bays English muffins for years, but not our packaging. This was a frequent consumer complain, that once they opened Bays they had to repackage Bays in another container. Otherwise, high-quality Bays English muffins could not be stored properly.”
Alas, she did not serve up an individual hero to enjoy the limelight.
“The Bays team mobilized to stop this pain point,” she said. “We wanted to find the right options. How big should the reseal be? We wanted people to easily get their muffins out of the package. The reseal had to work properly. It really was a process, to find the right solution.”To continue reading, click here.