December 3, 2013
Elitzur Eitan has no desire to ever live within pre-1967 Israel. Until 2005, he lived in the Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif, which was forcibly evacuated under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Now, he lives deep in the West Bank, where he works at a vineyard on Givat Harel, a tiny settlement overlooking the ruins of ancient Shiloh and the red-roofed houses of the modern settlement that shares its name. “Places like this are where Zionism still lives,” he says.
They are also, surprisingly, places where excellent wines are being made. Gvaot, the boutique winery where Eitan works as a foreman, produces some of the best kosher wines in the world. Gvaot, which was established in 2005, produces and sells roughly 30,000 bottles of kosher wine per year. The medals lining the back wall of Gvaot’s tiny tasting room testify to the quality of its products: a 2006 Double Gold Medal in the Terravino Mediterranean International Wine Challenge for making the best wine in the $27-$36.99 category and a 2008 award in the same contest for “Best Israeli Kosher Wine.”
Gvaot has won over Jonathan Livni, the chief wine critic for the mass-market Yediot Ahronot newspaper, and was also a favorite of Daniel Rogov, a prominent Israeli wine critic who died in 2011. Rogov refused to set foot in the West Bank, but he consistently gave high marks to Gvaot’s reds. Livni, a retired military judge who starred in the documentary The Law in These Parts, is a committed left-winger who believes Israel should withdraw entirely from the West Bank. But he nevertheless describes himself as huge fan of Gvaot and a handful of other West Bank wineries, which he says benefit from the region’s high altitude, rocky soil and dry air, characteristics found nearly nowhere else in Israel. “I think good wine trumps politics,” he says. “And there are a lot of good wines from the occupied territories.”
But the vineyards in places like Shiloh are also among the biggest reasons to doubt that the new round of American-brokered peace talks will go anywhere. Secretary of State John Kerry managed to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, but Netanyahu flatly rejected the idea of freezing construction in West Bank settlements like Shiloh or Givat Harel, even though they are so deep into the West Bank that they would almost certainly need to be evacuated as part of any peace deal.
Gvaot’s chief backer is Daniella Weiss, an activist who has spent decades at the helm of pro-settler groups like Gush Emunim and the Women in Green, arguing, loudly, that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the West Bank. “It’s the soil, the wonderful soil,” she said by way of explaining why Gvaot’s wines were so good, in a phone interview from her home in the settlement of Kedumim, a tiny village in an even more remote part of the West Bank than Givat Harel. “That’s what makes the grapes so special and that’s what makes the wines so special.”
Weiss also happens to be the mother-in-law of Shivi Drori, Gvaot’s chief wine maker, who has a doctorate in plant molecular biology from Hebrew University. “For every person who won’t buy wines because of where they come from, three want to buy it precisely because of where it comes from,” Drori said during an interview last month at the winery. Outside, the vineyard’s sloping trellises of grapes swayed gently in the winds rustling down from nearby hills.
Drori, a soft-spoken man who also teaches at a local university, founded Gvaot in 2005. He had begun planting grapes on Givat Harel years earlier with the initial idea of selling them to other wineries. When the first harvest came in, he found himself reluctant to part with the grapes. “I thought, ‘why lose these very good grapes? We should make a winery of our own,’” he recalled. “So we did.”
Weiss and her husband Amnon provided the millions of shekels Drori needed to get the winery off the ground, and it was successful with critics like Rogov almost immediately. “He succeeded in separating his own beliefs from the professional views he gave to the readers,” Dror, 40, said. “Not all of the critics do.”
But Weiss sees the vineyard as another tool for extending Jewish control over Shiloh and other parts of the West Bank. She believes Gvaot can provide much-needed jobs for local settlers, making it easier for them to stay in the region. More fundamentally, she believes that re-establishing Jewish life in and around Shiloh is a religious obligation.
“Everything that we do is about settling more Jews in Israel,” she says. “We have the homes and we have the people. Now we just need to build more of an economy.”
Weiss’s political beliefs permeate every aspect of the winery. Hundreds of American Evangelicals flood into the West Bank during each wine-harvesting season to work as volunteer grape pickers, but the winery refuses on principle to employ workers who aren’t Jewish.
Lior Amihai, a senior analyst for Peace Now, says that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators broadly agree future withdrawals would be based on land swaps allowing Israel to annex the areas near the Green Line where most settlers live in exchange for giving the new state of Palestine an equivalent amount of terrain that that is currently part of Israel. The problem, he says, is that Shiloh is so remote that Israel would need to give up an enormous amount of terrain to keep it.
“It’s really, really far from the Green Line,” Amihai says. “Israel doesn’t have enough land to swap. There are settlements whose future fate is known, but Shiloh is not one of them. There are no scenarios for a two-state solution in which Shiloh stays under Israeli sovereignty.”
Weiss says she’s not concerned. More than 340,000 Jews now live in West Bank settlements, and she argues that removing even a fraction of them would be politically and logistically impossible. Weiss doesn’t think the current talks stand much chance of success, a position shared, reluctantly, by Amihai and others on the Israeli left. “I call the Green Line the ‘Obama Line,’” she says. “Everything with him is settlers, everything is occupation. The reality is that we’ve become too big to move.”
Weiss has big plans for the winery, including building a restaurant for the busloads of tourists – including large numbers of religious Americans – who visit the winery and usually leave with bottles of red, whites or rosés. She hopes to begin construction this fall and have it open by the next wine-growing season.
Drori, the winemaker, is equally bullish about Gvaot’s future. Like his mother-in-law, he dismisses the chances for a peace deal that would require abandoning his corner of the West Bank. Drori says that he has good relations with the Palestinians living in nearby villages and insists that they are doing better under Israeli control than they would as citizens of an independent state. “The Palestinians are very happy,” he says. “You can see them walking with baby carriages, you see them with iPhones, you see them with satellite dishes. They’re prospering, and I’m quite happy about it. It’s good for us.”
Sitting in Gvaot’s small tasting room, Drori brings out a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, one of Gvaot’s most expensive wines. He swirls the glass around gently, brings it to his mouth, and takes a long sip. He said it was a favorite of Rogov, the wine critic. Then Drori stands up, shakes hands, and heads for the door. It’s just after 11 AM, and he has a busy day ahead. Drori and the graduate students who work in his lab at a nearby university are trying to identify and ultimately recreate the types of grapes that would have existed in the region during Biblical times. “We will have unique Israeli grapes, some for eating, some for wine-making,” Drori says. “Maybe in 3 to 4 years we can actually sit here and have a glass of true Israeli wine.”
This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
October 30, 2013
In 1971, Walt Disney World had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Led Zepplin was about to blow our minds, a prison riot had been shut down at Attica, and all across America, kids were pooping pink. Hundreds of mothers hospitalized their children for fecal testing out of fear of internal bleeding. Within that same year, not-so-coincidentally, General Mills released their classic monster cereals Count Chocula and Franken Berry. The latter was colored red using “Food, Drug and Cosmetics” (FD & C) Red No. 2 and No. 3., originally and chemically known as amaranth, a synthetic color named after the natural flower. The synthetic dye can’t be broken down or absorbed by the body.
A 1972 case study, “Benign Red Pigmentation of Stool Resulting from Food Coloring in a New Breakfast Cereal (The Franken Berry Stool),” published in Pediatrics explains the phenomenon later known as “Franken Berry Stool.” A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized for four days after being admitted for possible rectal bleeding. “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream,” Payne reports. Further questioning of the mother revealed that the child had enjoyed a bowl of Franken Berry cereal two days and one day prior to his hospitalization. By the fourth day, they did a little experiment: They fed the boy four bowls of Franken Berry cereal and for the next two days, he passed bright pink stools. But other than pink poop, there were no other symptoms, Payne reports, “Physical examination upon admission revealed [a boy] in no acute distress and with normal vital signs…Physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.”
At the time of the study, the product had only been on the market for a few weeks. The author warns that “physicians should be aware of its potential for producing reddish stools.” Other monster cereals at the time also used dyes that caused stool to change colors. Booberry, which debuted in December of 1972, for example, uses Blue No. 1 (a dye currently banned in Norway, Finland and France) and turns stool green. Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.
But pink poop wasn’t always the worst side effect from colored confections. Ruth Winters’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients details the history of commercial food dyes, including those later used in Franken Berry. At the turn of the 20th century, with virtually no regulation of more than 80 dyes used to color food, the same dyes used for clothes could also be used to color confections and other edibles.
In 1906, Congress passed the first legislation for food colors, the Pure Food and Drug Act, deeming seven colors suitable for use in food: orange, erythrosine, ponceu 3R, amaranth (the color later used in Franken Berry cereal), indigotin, naphthol yellow, and light green. Since then, upon further study, several of these choices have been delisted.
More than 20 years later, in 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which gave these colors numbers instead of chemical names—every batch needed to be certified by the Food and Drug Administration, though some problems still arose: in the fall of 1950, many children became ill from eating an orange Halloween candy containing one to two percent FD&C Orange No. 1, for example.
Red Dye No. 2, the one used by the original Franken Berry cereal, was one of the most widely used color additives at the time, until a 1971 Russian study reported that the dyes caused tumors in female rats. Years of research led the FDA to find that even though the Russian study was extremely flawed (the FDA couldn’t even prove that amaranth was one of the dyes used), the agency would remove the dye from its Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list in 1976. Between public outcry against the dye and the chance that trace elements could potentially have carcinogens, the FDA banned a number of other dyes as well. According to the FDA, 47 other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, still allow for the use of Red Dye No. 2.
That same year, Mars removed their red M&M’s from the candy-color spectrum for nearly a decade, even though Mars didn’t even use Red No. 2; the removal of the red candies was a response to the scare, livescience.com reports:
The red food coloring in question was not actually used in M&M’s chocolate candies, according to mms.com. “However, to avoid consumer confusion, the red candies were pulled from the color mix.”
Inquiries to General Mills as to when the Franken Berry ingredients switched to less poop-worrying dyes, were not responded to. These days, the only red colors accepted by the FDA are Red No. 40, which appears in all five of the General Mills monster cereals, and Red No. 3, typically used in candied fruits.
The symptoms of “Franken Berry Stool” were pretty benign compared to other more notable confectionary mishaps in history: The accidental poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford, England in 1858 comes to mind. The sweets were accidentally made with arsenic. Let’s be thankful there’s a bit more regulation of food dyes these days.
Another stool scare in cereal history: Smurfberry Crunch Cereal, released in 1982 by Post Foods, turned the poop of those who ate it blue—the ultimate Smurfs experience. Post then changed the formula and re-released the cereal in 1987 as Magic Berries Cereal.
Looking for a sugar high now? You’re safe. When you open your celebratory, Franken Berry or any of the other monster cereals this Halloween, [for the first time, all five monsters are available in stores since the well-received re-release of Frute Brute (1975-1984) and Fruity Yummy Mummy (1987-1992)], expect a sugar high—without the pink poop aftermath. We tasted all five of the cereals and Count Chocula is the best by a long shot.
The best part is when the chocolate “sweeties,” as the marshmallows were called in the original commercials in 1971, are all gone: the plain milk becomes chocolate milk. Let’s be real, what child—or “adult”—prefers regular milk to chocolate? I haven’t met this kind of person.
September 20, 2013
You have to hand it to Chipotle. Not only has the company released a captivating and buzz-worthy viral ad/video game package, with The Scarecrow, but it has also managed – in just a few short years – to position itself as a viable alternative to other fast food menus leaden with industrially produced meals.
Indeed, a slick dystopian storyline and a heart-wrenching soundtrack do go a long way these days. And Chipotle made a smart choice when they hired MoonBot Studios, a meticulous, craft-obsessed media firm, which apparently spent two years developing nearly 200 incarnations of the brief story before landing on the current scarecrow-as-farmer-who-bucks-the-system narrative. The final product has been called hauntingly beautiful, brilliant, and amazing by more some of the most influential voices online.
Now that the dust has settled, and nearly 6 million people have seen the video on YouTube, some viewers may be left wondering: Could it really be that simple? Does Chipotle really represent the “other side of the food debate,” as this article from Midwest-based food and farming reporting collaborative Harvest Media implies? As I see it, the answer is: Yes. And no.
On the one hand, Chipotle has built its brand — and taken a significant business risk — by sourcing higher quality ingredients. In addition to buying some locally sourced produce, the cornerstone of this effort has been a commitment to serving meat raised without subtherapeutic (or growth-promoting) antibiotics. But that hasn’t always been easy to do, and finding a consistent source of this meat can be difficult. In Chipotle’s 2012 Annual Report, the restaurant acknowledges this fact, saying:
Some of our restaurants served conventionally raised beef for short periods during 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and more of our restaurants may periodically serve conventionally raised meats in the future due to supply constraints. When we become aware that one or more of our restaurants will serve conventionally raised meat, we clearly and specifically disclose this temporary change on signage….
More recently, the company has been in the spotlight for considering a switch to less-stringently produce “naturally raised” meat, and acknowledges that it may take less of a hardline approach to antibiotics. The company, says NPR, is “evaluating if this strict ‘never-ever’ antibiotic protocol is best for the animals, or whether animals can be treated when necessary and allowed to remain in the herd.”
We’ll go a little further into these supply constraints later, but for now, it’s worth acknowledging that these practices (and the company’s expressed interest in remaining transparent about it) has legitimately set Chipotle apart from many competitors.
On the other hand, let’s not forget that Chipotle is, ultimately, a giant company that does many things on what is more-or-less an industrial level. According to the latest annual report, Chipotle has close to 1,500 restaurants and, by the end of2012, it employed about 37,000 people, including about 34,000 who work hourly. Their average starting salary is $10.50 an hour, or a little higher minimum wage. In 2012, AOL reported on their employment practices:
A crew member is paid an average of $8.51 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com, compared to $7.63 at McDonald’s, $7.69 at Wendy’s, and $7.80 at Burger King.
Still, some Chipotle employees gripe anonymously on Glassdoor.com that they’re underpaid, given the intensity of the grind.
“Full-time effort for part-time pay,” wrote one crew member in Brunswick, Ohio. “The amount of pressure for a burrito joint is unheard of!” chirped another in Austin, Texas. And true enough, most Chipotle employees work full-time hours, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said, although schedules can vary.
None of these employees are unionized or covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Last year, after refusing to do so for six years, the company finally signed on to a fair food agreement that provides tomato pickers in Florida with one penny more per pound.
Chipotle’s business model also requires a few other departures from the scarewcrow’s quaint little taco stand sourced with produce fresh from his farm. For one, the average restaurant sales were $2.113 million, meaning it sells around 3 billion dollars of food every year, resulting in revenue of over $800 million.
Of course, none of these factors mean that Chipotle can’t, or shouldn’t be sharing its interpretation of the realities of our food system. But “The Scarecrow” raises other, bigger questions about just how far a private business can truly go to change that system on their own.
In a corporate statement released by the company on the day the video went live, Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle said:
In a system that is so heavily dominated by industrial agriculture and factory farms, we are committed to finding better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use and to helping build a better food system, much the same as the character in ‘The Scarecrow’ is taking important steps to fix what he perceives as being broken in his world.
Providing a larger market for sustainably raised food has its value. But as the shortage of antibiotic-free meat mentioned above implies: That’s not all there is to it. Companies like Chipotle can help drive a small wedge into, say, the highly consolidated livestock industry (where in four companies—Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield—process more than half of the meat we eat). But they’re much less likely to get involved when it comes to say, helping new farmers access the land or capital required to start the kind of antibiotic-free and pasture-based operations that many consumers are asking for. Food industry consolidation has also resulted in a great deal of political power for the industry in the states where the nation’s farm policy is decided, so that efforts like The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act in this year’s Farm Bill, for instance, often lack a solid base of support.
This is not an argument for Chipotle to start lobbying in Washington (although things could get interesting if they did). But let’s not pretend that three minutes of dramatic, well-scored animation (nor the upcoming “TV show-length Big-Food-busting dark comedies, Farmed and Dangerous, that Chipotle will post online sometime in 2014”) is enough to single-handedly turn a huge, entrenched industry on its head. And we shouldn’t expect it to. But this ad – and the response it has generated – certainly says a lot about the increased expectation on big businesses to solve the problems other big businesses have wrought. Or, maybe that’s just what we tell ourselves — as we wait for the next sleek video to be released.
August 1, 2013
In 1905, John Schneider sat down, put pen to paper, and began writing an account of his life. Elderly, his wiry white beard and mustache framing a face marked with deeply creased wrinkles, his memories came simply, matter-of-fact words and descriptions perhaps disguising how ill-at-ease the German immigrant felt with his adopted language. “We were 250 brewers in [Cincinnati] and founded the Gambrinus Support Association and demanded 30 dollars per month, which the bosses didn’t agree to, and we went on strike,” he wrote. “Business was good; left Eichenlaube. Went to Moerlein’s Brewery, only there was another strike, so I left soon and went to Herancourt’s Brewery, from there to the Jackson Brewery as maltser and got 3 dollars more wage here.” His words reveal the success of his chosen industry; breweries were plentiful, and Schneider had innumerable options for work. The year was 1854, and Schneider, who would become a brewmaster before long, found himself on the ground-level of the American brewing boom, a business that would peak in 1873 with over 3,700 independent breweries operating in the United States.
140 years later, the American brewing industry is back on the rise, thanks in large part to the reinvigorated appeal — and economic success — of small batch craft breweries. In their midyear report — released this week — the Brewers Association announced strong financial growth for American breweries, dollars backed by the number of breweries operating: 2,538, the largest number since 1873. What sounded the death knell for the brewing boom, and why did it take nearly a century and a half for American brewing to reclaim its former glory? The death of the American brewery can be attributed — at least in part — to the heartbreak of loving something too much: when beer became popular, it became profitable, opening itself up to large-scale corporate control and consolidation.
Before 1810, production statistics for beer are widely unavailable, speaking to its lack of standing in the American beverage rotation. Toward the mid-1850s, however, a number of social and technological advancements made beer an appealing option for drinkers. For one, an influx of immigrants from Britain, Germany and Ireland contributed to the idea of a beer-drinking culture. Additionally, wages were on the rise, affording workers the economic means to knock back a cold one after work. Substantive improvements in technology — such as refrigeration and pasteurization — also contributed to beer becoming more widely available. In 1865, per capita consumption of beer in the United States was 3.4 gallons — by the end of the 19th century, that number had nearly quadrupled.
Up through 1873, most of America’s beer came from small, locally owned and operated breweries. While craft breweries of today are concerned with creating a breadth of creative beer styles (see the Rogue Brewery’s Bacon Maple Ale, a beer inspired by Portland, Oregon’s famous Voodoo Doughnut shop), small batch breweries of the 19th century were more concerned with distributing quality beer to their immediate, local clientele. “Today, America’s craft brewers are creating innovative, high quality beer in a variety of styles and flavors,” explains Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “But, for a good part of the 20th century, it was hard to find many examples of ales in the U.S.” Lighter styles like lagers and pilsners began to squeeze heavier ales out of the market, thanks in large part to the influx of German immigrants — like Schneider — who brought their country’s penchant for the pilsner to America.
As thirst for the malty beverage increased, a new dynamic pitted big business against small craftsmanship. In 1870, 3,286 breweries produced, on average, 2,009 barrels of beer per year. By 1915, only 1,345 breweries remained, but these were prodigious in their production, cranking out 44,461 barrels per year. “Brewery declines in the 1870s were related to refrigerated and iced rail cars allowing breweries to extend their reach, pushing consolidation and closure of small, local brewers,” says Gatza.
It wasn’t until after Prohibition, however, that these large scale “shipping breweries” began to truly outwit the smaller craft breweries — which, though outnumbered, had been able to sustain their business by supplying small batch brews to their immediate local markets. With the passing of the 21st amendment, a measure was put in place that banned brewers from owning bars or saloons, requiring a middleman to go between bar owners and beer manufactures. Such a step drove up cost for small breweries, making their model economically unfeasible. “After Prohibition, over 700 breweries opened, but consolidation of smaller brewers by larger brewers started quickly and continued to around 1980,” Gatza says. “The post-Prohibition low point was 89 breweries owned by 42 companies in the late-1970s.” A combination of factors began to make beer — especially craft beer — less appealing to the American public. Marketing campaigns effectively dictated that the industry center around pale lagers, and diet crazes proselytized the light beer above all. The bell was tolling for the American brewery: experts projected that by the 1980s, there would be five brewing companies left in the United States.
Dancing with extinction, the American tradition of craft brewing has undergone a rebirth in the past 30 years. “A book could be written on what is behind the renaissance,” Gatz explains. “In a nutshell, beer drinkers are far more educated about breweries and beer styles, and having great experiences with delicious beers.” From 89 to 2,538 in three decades might be more than a renaissance, however — we may be witnessing the second-coming of an American craft brewing boom.
Which isn’t to say that history is repeating itself–merely mirroring a pattern of expanding industry.
May 24, 2013
Turns out, there may not have always been money in the banana stand.
Ask Bob Teller. The frozen banana stand he opened on Balboa Peninsula in the ’60s popularized the famous snack in Newport Beach, California—something fans of the cult Fox television series, “Arrested Development,” may find familiar.
In the show, which returns for a fourth season on Netflix after a seven year hiatus on May 26, the Bluth family runs and owns a frozen banana stand on Oceanside Wharf boardwalk on Balboa Island—a business endeavor launched by George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor)—though the Bluth’s banana stand was actually filmed in a fishermen’s village in Marina Del Rey, 50 miles from Balboa Island. According to the show’s pilot, George held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the booth in 1963—the same year Teller opened his banana stand. The connections do not end there. In 1976, a 13-year-old Mitchell Hurwitz, along with his brother Michael (another connection!), opened up a dessert stand of their own right next to Teller’s Banana Rolla Rama. With the help of their father Mark, who coincidentally went to college with Bob Teller, they rented an abandoned taco stand and renamed it the Chipyard. Hurwitz would later become the creator, executive producer and mastermind behind “Arrested Development.”
Though several restaurants on Balboa Island claim to have invented the “original” frozen banana dipped in chocolate and nuts—both Dad’s Donuts and Sugar and Spice say they sold them first on the island (a conflict reminiscent of the season three, episode eight “Making a Stand” when G.O.B. sets up the “Banana Shack” feet away from the original), the story of the first banana stand in Newport Beach goes a little further back. Circa 1940, Don Phillips, the true “frozen banana king“, opened a banana stand, “The Original Frozen Banana,” on Balboa Peninsula right next to the ferry landing—an idea he may have borrowed from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.
About 20 years later, in 1961 at the Arizona State Fair, Bob Teller was also selling frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and nuts with his wife, Rita, from their concession stand, the Banana Rolla Rama. Teller borrowed the idea for the frozen bananas from a candy shop in Lake Arrowhead Village, California. The recipe was simple: Freeze a banana, dip it into the specially-made, proprietary chocolate, and roll it in nuts or sprinkles. They sold for 25 or 30 cents each, depending on the size of the banana.
Teller was a true entrepreneur—though he received a degree in real estate and finance from the University of Arizona, he dabbled in running a flea market and vending his frozen bananas for the state fair. In 1963, when Teller was interested in manufacturing car seat belts, he and his wife headed to San Diego for a business convention.
“My parents had honeymooned there,” says Jeff Teller, Bob’s son. “They saw a sign for Balboa Island where the original frozen banana was and decided to check it out.”
When Bob and his wife were in line to buy a couple frozen treats, he told the teenager behind the counter that he had also sold frozen bananas in Arizona. The counter help was not interested in the coincidence, but there was a gentleman within earshot who certainly was. Roland Vallely was looking to rent out a commercial space near the ferry landing across from Balboa Pavilion where Don Phillips ran his shop. “[Vallely] told my dad that he’d make $50,000 in a summer selling bananas in that space,” Jeff says.
Vallely and Teller exchanged phone numbers and parted ways. Nearly two months later, when Teller learned that Phillips’ original frozen banana stand was closed by the health department, he remembered Vallely’s offer.
“That night my dad tossed and turned,” Jeff says. “When he heard Phillips was never going to reopen his doors, he thought ‘My God! What a captive market to sell the product to!’”
Bob called Mr. Vallely at six the next morning and signed a lease to open up a banana stand later that day. As expected, Phillips never reopened the original banana stand and Teller’s shop next to the peninsula’s Fun Zone thrived. Vallely and Teller would later become next door neighbors and remained so until Vallely’s death in 2003.
“As the story goes, [Phillips] had said that everyone had deserted him—that he was living the life of Job from the story in the Bible,” Jeff says. “Everybody deserted him, including God and Mr. Phillips felt the same way.”
A connection to the show’s G.O.B. Bluth (pronounced “Jobe”) is unlikely, but the coincidence is bananas.
“Everyone says that one of the characters in that series is loosely based on Bob Teller,” Jeff says. “There’s a lot more truth to the show than one may realize.”
Whatever happened to the actual banana stand?
According to the Daily Pilot, a few years later when Mr. Phillips died, the Internal Revenue Service auctioned off the business and Teller bought it for $125—a steal for Teller as the building still contained equipment from the original stand including freezers for the bananas. Teller began selling his Banana Rolla Rama desserts in Disneyland in the mid ’60s, expanding the frozen banana’s presence to the greater southern California area. In the mid ’70s, Bob sold the company to his insurance broker, Emory Frank, so he could focus on his mall chain, “Bob’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream,” which sold his real claim to fame: a vanilla ice cream bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts that he called the “Beach Bar,” later known as the “Balboa Bar“. Teller had at least 70 shops at the chain’s peak. Frank kept the name, Banana Rolla Rama, but Teller could not confirm how long Frank ran the business after he sold it.
Around 1976, Teller’s other business investment, a “swap meet,” a kind of large-scale flea market in Orange County now known as the Orange County Marketplace, took off. Bob ran a flea market and sold concessions including his frozen bananas and “Beach Bars,” making use of the Orange County fair grounds. His son, Jeff, is the current president of the company.
Bob Teller, now 75, was unavailable for comment, but he is still involved with the family business. All the more time for his latest entrepreneurial foray: the development of electric boats. Though Teller is no longer a seller of bananas, he said in an interview with Orange Coast Magazine in 1990, that ”When I look at things to buy, I still think in terms of bars and bananas I’d have to sell to afford them.”
On May 8, a recreation of “Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana” banana stand, also known as the “Big Yellow Joint“, began a world tour, dolling out chocolate-covered fruit in London, then New York City the following week. The stand was last seen in the Los Angeles area just days before the program’s return.
While we can confirm a few items in the show are based on real life experiences, some things—whether or not anyone in the Bluth family has ever seen a chicken, for example—remain up for debate.