Immediately the image of Murray Lender, spokesperson for Lender’s Bagels popped into my mind on the way to the supermarket. As I approached the checkout with my frozen Lender’s Original Bagels, I begin to vaguely recall the last time I saw Murray Lender in a commercial. I’d say it was circa 1991. He was a middle-aged man maybe in his late fifties with more salt than pepper hair. There he was sitting at his breakfast table smiling, because he’d balanced his bank accounts earlier that morning and knew just how good the bagel business has been to him and his family.
Then I realized, that was sixteen years ago. No one has seen or heard from the man since. Was he okay? Was he really missing or just retired? Panic (or about as close to the feeling of panic that one can feel for a missing advertising icon) was beginning to set in; I had to figure out what happened to Murray Lender.
Here is what I was able to unearth about the man and his bagel empire:
Harry Lender (Murray’s dad) immigrated to the United States from Lublin, Poland in 1927. That same year he established Lender’s Bagel Bakery in New Haven, Conn. Harry bore three sons; Sam, Marvin and the aforementioned Murray. Sometime in the mid to late-sixties, the brothers decided to try freezing the normally bakery-fresh bagels. This decision allowed the company to go national and Lender’s Bagels (available in your grocer’s freezer case) was born.
A managerial pecking order was established soon thereafter. Sam would be the financial brains behind the operation. Marvin was the muscle (according to local lore, a small Poughkeepsie, NY grocer outright refused the product and was found dead in his walk-in freezer with two broken legs. But then again who can believe anyone who lives in Poughkeepsie). Murray was designated as pitchman (nicknamed “Mr. Personality” by his family, he would often place bagels on two forks and perform the Oceana Roll at the dinner table for guests).
Fast-forward to 1986, when the company was sold to Kraft Foods. Kraft held Lender’s for ten years before selling to Kellogg’s in 1996. Kellogg’s ownership was brief; just three years, before passing it on to Aurora Foods in 1999. Aurora was swallowed by Pinnacle Foods in 2003. According to a February 12, 2007 press release on the Pinnacle Foods website, Pinnacle Foods Group, Inc. is set to be ingested by The Blackstone Group in the first half of 2007.
None of this definitively addresses my concerns. Idealistically, I’d like to believe the man is happily retired somewhere living comfortably off of the profits from the sale of his family’s business. In the event that Murray has gone missing and no one has bothered to locate him, consider this a virtual Missing Poster.