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Recap Coda: The Bagel Blunder

Why does no one want to work in a bagel shop? Because it’s a crumby job!

Chain Restaurant Panera Announces Its Cutting Use Of All Artificial Additives
Not the Saint Louis Bread Company’s Finest Hour
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For those unfamiliar with the Recap Coda series, here’s a link to Matt’s introduction. A couple of us have taken the original concept and twisted it to our own whims, using historical games that are memorable to us. Here’s a link to the entire Recap Coda series.

Game Capsule: July 10, 2005 - Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Yes, Recap Coda has already visited 2007 with Tim Webber’s excellent “Celebrating the worst School Day at the K of all time” where “ Dan Johnson ruined the days of thousands of schoolchildren”. But it was such an eventful year for the Royals (ok, not really)!

After losing 100 games in 4 of their last 5 seasons, the Royals would not lose 100 again until... well, um... 2018. The previous year, coveted GM candidate Dayton Moore left Atlanta to take the Royals job and begin putting his stamp on the team. The Royals welcomed big ticket free agent Gil Meche, who spurned other clubs, angering Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi. Zack Greinke returned to baseball and posted a quality season just two years before he would have one of the best pitching campaigns of all time. Joakim Soria was selected in the Rule V draft, pitched a no-hitter in the Mexican Winter League the next day, and would garner down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes after being thrust into the closer’s role. Day Banny had his best MLB season. Of course, none of these players played on this day. But this story is much more about what happened off the field than on.

First Krispy Kreme Shop In Britain Opens
The Krispy Kreme Konveyor (as it’s spelled in my head)
Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Back in 2003, the Royals teamed with Krispy Kreme for one of the most memorable promotions in team history. If the Royals got 12 hits in a home game, you could trade that ticket for a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Many fans remember the “We want donuts” chant (Ed note: I always felt it was important to say “Let’s Go Donuts” because “We Want Donuts” was too self serving.) From the above story:

Mann notes that during the April 19 game against the Tigers, ‘a surreal, Homer Simpson-like chant of ‘doughnuts, doughnuts’” came from the stands as the Royals neared the 12-hit mark.

Personally, I have fond memories of waiting in line at the Overland Park Krispy Kreme after a Royals victory. You might be in line for a half hour or more but you would be there with jubilant Royals fans during their one good season (good ol’ 2003 Royals: the answer to “what if you gave all the luck in baseball to a 65-win team”). The Krispy Kreme workers who were not busy making or boxing donuts would be handing out warm donut samples to those in line. When freshly baked, Krispy Kreme glazed donuts are amazing: they fluffily melt in your mouth with just the right amount of glaze.*

*Cold ones are much less so as the glaze cakes on too thick and they’re best microwaved before eating. But if you’re poor, hungry college students, then not many survive the evening, even at a full dozen per ticket holder.

As with so many things, it was too good to last. Even with a team that had difficulty drawing crowds and, even as the story states above, ran a low redemption rate, problems arose along with the popularity of the promotion. As there were only three Krispy Kreme stores in the Kansas City area, all had lines that went out the door on donut nights. The initial positive exposure soured some as people figured out how to game the system. Over the next couple of years, they tweaked the promotion so that they could only be redeemed Monday through Friday during normal business hours. No more midnight throngs of joyous jersey-clad donut seekers.

After the 2006 season, the Krispy Kreme promotion was discontinued:

[Dan Glass] said the dough-nut maker’s corporate philosophy had changed and the company no longer wanted to continue the promotion. But Glass quipped the good news is, “We will all lose a lot of weight.” And he joked Krispy Kreme execs were so startled by the team’s improvements in the second half of last season that they were worried about the frequency of this year’s giveway if the hit total wasn’t raised to 24 for a dozen.

Panera Bread To Acquire Au Bon Pain Bakery Chain
Panera campaign slogan: “We didn’t think this through”
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Another “hits-for-carbs” promotion took its place: the Panera’s Baker’s Dozen. If the Royals got 13 hits in a home win, the ticket could be redeemed for 13 bagels. I could not find any links to cite for this promotion, but we’ll get to that in a bit. If you don’t remember it, you’ll just have to trust me that it happened.

In 2007, the Royals won Opening Day by a 7-1 score against the eventual World Series Champion Red Sox. Newly minted ace Gil Meche scattered 6 hits across 7.1 innings and the Royals knocked around Curt Schilling. They almost triggered the promotion on Opening Day with 41,257 in attendance. However, the Royals came up a hit short, only getting a dozen hits against a half dozen Boston pitchers. The season was all downhill from there as the team went 1-5 the rest of the first two series and then 2-7 on a long April road trip.

The team limped home at 4-11 for only the second homestand of the season. Many fans hadn’t even had a chance to see the team and unseasonably warm April weather conspired against the Saint Louis Bread Company. The game time temperature was 71 and the walkup crowd was large. There were only a handful of home games in 2007 with over 30K fans: Opening Day, a series with the Yankees, the aforementioned School Day at the K, and this one.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals
Did Sir Sidney pitch for the Royals or the Twins on this day? It’s been lost to history
Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

Odalis Perez faced off against Sidney Ponson. I’ll let you guess which ineffective pitcher started for Kansas City. It’s irrelevant to the story, really. The first Royal batter of the game, David DeJesus, got a hit and the Royals never really stopped. Mike Sweeney started the Royals scoring with a homer in the 2nd. The 4th and 6th innings were the only ones in the game without a leadoff hit.

Kansas City trailed 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 until a 5-run 5th gave them the lead for good. A Mark Grudzielanek (Underrated Royal alert!) homer tied the game. A Ross Gload groundout scored Mark Teahen to give the Royals their first lead. Potential franchise savior Alex Gordon, who made his MLB debut to much fanfare on Opening Day (striking out with the bases loaded in the first) had been moved down to 7th in the lineup with an abysmal .137/.241/.255 triple slash. He doubled home Gload and then scored after two wild pitches to John Buck.

The Royals finished off the Twins with an amusing bottom of the 8th. DeJesus got the only hit in the inning, a leadoff single. He went to second on a wild pitch. Grudzielanek was hit by a pitch. Future Royal and owner of the glorious nickname “The Big Sweat”, Dennys Reyes, plunked the only batter he faced, Teahen, to load the bases. Sweeney walked to force a run in. Gload grounded weakly to 2nd and Grudz was forced at home. But then Teahen scored from 3rd on a wild pitch and Sweeney scored on a Brown sacrifice fly. Three runs, one hit, two hit batters, two wild pitches and a bases loaded walk.

Kansas City Royals Photo Day
Hero to all of Bageldom!
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Royals pounded out 15 hits and won 11-7. Back in the 6th inning, Mark Teahen collected the 13th hit. A bullpen combination of Ryan Braun, Jimmy Gobble, Todd Wellemeyer, and David Riske did not let the lead slip away. The Royals won, bagel eaters won, Panera won...

But the redemption rate “has been running at about 1[%].” Krispy Kreme Dir of Marketing for MO and KS Kelly Lehman: “We had no idea the Royals would end up being so successful this year. ... It’s been like a real wildfire — it’s caught on more than we could have ever imagined.”

Royals VP/Sales & Marketing Charlie Seraphin: “This promotion just sort of epitomizes the word exposure. The feedback has been 100[%] positive — the underlying emotion is elation and jubilation because generally speaking if we get 12 hits, we’ve probably won the game. So it’s a win-win-win, for us, for the fans and for Krispy Kreme.”

Oh, wait, that was Krispy Kreme. For Panera, things did not go as well. Unlike donuts, which can be extruded into existence at a speedy pace, bagels take time.

I have a friend who I’ll call “John”. He who worked at a local Panera where employees are not bakers but “a guide to helping people realize a lifestyle enhanced by bread.” He informed me that each bagel takes at least 3 minutes to make and you can’t just make more when you run out. Every bread made at any of the Kansas City area Paneras (including Wichita, Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, and St. Joe’s) came from a decades old levain called the Mother Bread. The aforementioned bagels are mixed one day in KC, rise in a truck and in walk-in coolers on the second day, and are baked the third day. Needless to say, a sharp rise in demand can cause problems for this lengthy supply chain.

At John’s store, the promotion morphed thusly (to the best of his recollection):

  • On the 1st day: Any 13 bagels plus 1 cream cheese. They ran out at 6:30am.
  • On the 2nd day: Any 13 basic bagels with cream cheese extra. They ran out at 6:30 again.
  • On the 3rd day: 13 pre-selected bagels in opaque paper bag. No cream cheese. Lasted until midday.
  • On the 4th/5th days: 13 plain and sesame bagels. Mostly made it through the day, but with many customers disgruntled about selection.

Around Smashbox Studios - MBFW Fall 2008 - Day 1
Not “John”
Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for IMG

Needless to say, this was a colossal failure. This happened in 2007, which, admittedly, is eons ago, in internet time. But it’s almost impossible to find any trace of this promotion. The links on the Star and are long gone and pointed to 404 pages. A few blog posts remain, as do pages linking to the now-dead Star and KCRoyals links. An archived link lets you see Jeffrey Flanagan’s story in the Star entitled “Royals’ Baker’s Dozen Bagel Deal is Toast”:

“We’re definitely pulling the plug,” said Eric Cole, vice president of operations for the Kansas City Panera franchises. Cole said that Panera was overwhelmed when more than 8,500 fans wanted to redeem their ticket stubs from that victory. That meant that Panera’s franchises were busy pumping out more than 110,000 bagels over a five-day period. “It was just too much,” Cole said. “We were led to believe that there would be about a 15 percent redemption rate, so we figured at most it would be 20 percent. I think it wound up being about 26.7 percent from that one game. It takes about six minutes to prepare a bagel the way we want to. So we just had situations where we couldn’t do it at certain stores for the number of fans who wanted them.”

In the end, Panera cancelled their entire season-long ad buy from the Royals.

Condemnation from the blogosphere was swift and fearsome... well... ok, so: social media wasn’t as influential or ubiquitous as it is now. But even our little corner of the world wide web detailed this doughy debacle.