Whatever happened to the rare edible species known as Hostess Choco-Diles? Mistaken as extinct by some, Choco-Diles have only become more elusive. Some cities have them, most cities don't. Their reach today was short enough for Hostess to kill off "Chauncey," the snack's spokesman and hat-wearing alligator boy. "Twinkie the Kid" lives on, and even "Fruit Pie the Magician" has a few current deals going. To most of us, Choco-Diles are a distant memory.
Course, their sudden disappearance and rumors about the remaining Diles' whereabouts have made people who wouldn't normally take such an interest in Hostess cakes hop up with intrigue. An extensive search on the web provides no information on the Choco-Diles' top secret locations, but rather an unfathomable (almost 12!) number of tribute sites, and various message board postings from hungry people wanting cake. For others, the search became an obsession. One of the more interesting hunts was led by journalist Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, whose findings were well documented here. Choco-Diles also have a tribute site on Geocities -- might look like the kinda site we'd normally laugh at, but underneath that gruff exterior lies something more inspirational. People with a dream. People who would find Choco-Diles, or die trying.
It took months, but I finally succeeding in locating a Choco-Dile. This article details the adventure, from stop to stop to false promises, all the way back to stop #2 and rinse and repeat. I have to admit, I wasn't as energetic in my search as others have been. Moreover, it was just something I did whenever my girlfriend's family dropped by and I needed to appear busy. "Working." For extra effect, I'd occasionally huff towards the monitor, trying to convey that some boss I had on the Internet was giving me shit, usually around 11:30 at night. Meanwhile, the only thing on my screen were Google results for "chauncey choco-dile mailorder." Now that I've found them, I guess it's back to looking for Pine Brothers' soft cherry cough drops. Huffing all the way.
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Actually, it's possible that many of you have never even heard of a Choco-Dile. The types of conversations that include topics and segues leading to "Choco-Dile" are not easy to duplicate, and surely, it's a rare process. There's few people who could ever find the right moment to stick in a quick comment about chocolate-covered Twinkies that may no longer exist.
Yes, that's all they are. Chocolate-covered Twinkies. Therein lies one of the reasons Choco-Diles are so hard to find. Apparently, there were many complaints from supermarkets and delis about the cakes not keeping too well, and rather than rely on well timed orders to fit with the Diles' short lifespan, most bakeries stopped making them. They're sadly produced in a scant few cities now, but by the end of this article, I'll tell you where to find them. Or at least, I'll give you the general area.
I had acquired enough Choco-Diles to be choosy when picking which would be photographed, and up above is a specimen that was uncharacteristically intact. Most of the Diles had dents and bruises, and were fragile even when still packaged. Even allowing for a lot of damage by having them arrive by mail, the Choco-Diles were safely wrapped and way too demolished to blame solely on the mailman. Except for that first twenty minutes or so, when I was extra pissed about the box of broken Choco-Diles. At that point, everything wrong with the world was the mailman's fault. We've since mended fences, and his Christmas tip check didn't bounce.
This inherent fragility might play a part in the snack's lowered population. They haven't been available in my city for years, and even when I switched from deli-to-deli trips to quick calls to virtually anywhere that sold food in the Tri-State area, I had no luck. Certain stores assured me that'd they'd sold Choco-Diles recently, but were either fresh out or "just remembering now" that they'd hadn't seen the things in ten years. They suggested calling those Hostess/Wonder Bakery thrift stores, but again, no luck. Fortunately, one of the Hostess bakeries I couldn't locate a number for was also the one closest to me. I didn't have high hopes for the excursion, but I'd been looking for an excuse to visit this strange place since childhood...
We visited the "Bakery Thriftshop" shown above a few weeks ago, a little before Christmas. It's virtually adjacent to the Woodbridge Mall in Jersey, and when you factor in all of the newly renovated, completely massive stores that surround it, the Bakery is the only place in the area that hasn't changed in twenty years. It's up on a hill, with the path leading up to it obscured to all except those willing to risk a major car accident. On the outside, it was like time stood still. It was like time stood still and everything got really, really dirty from it.
The lady working there was very nice, but I'd be lying if I said we weren't apprehensive about heading inside. The store looked straight out of one of those playground stories -- you went in, but you never came out. I remembered that I crossed a bridge to get there and had to throw six bucks at the toll guy to get back home, and that was enough to stir my bravery soup. Sure, they could've been an ax murderer in the bakery....but maybe that ax murderer was selling Choco-Diles.
The place was clean and none of the goods inside has passed their expiration date, but it was easily to tell that the store hadn't changed appearance since it opened, two hundred and fifty years ago. It was a lot smaller than it seemed from the outside, but absolutely jam-packed with foods I'd never heard of before. Other foods were recognizable, but I hadn't seen them sold anywhere else for years. It was a 13x8' world of relics, and it seemed like the kind of place that'd sell obscure clumps of chocolate sponge crap.
The clientele was interesting, to say the least. We were the only customers at first, but soon, others appeared. I'd never seen people like this before. I thought they only existed in jokes and on television shows. One couple, I believe in their thirties, argued with the cashier because the raspberry-filled donuts cost ten cents more than they did last time. It wasn't a heated argument or anything, but it went on for a good ten minutes. I'd rarely heard "Can I talk to the manager?" in real life, but I never expected to hear it over a price hike for raspberry-filled donuts.
Still, I'm sure we seemed the strangest of all. I doubt that many visitors to the Hostess Bakery in Woodbridge spend fifteen minutes taking the "right picture" of vanilla cupcakes. I think we scared the cashier. And she calls herself an ax murderer?
Then again, who am I to talk? I thumbed my nose at the other customers, but then...something happened. As I stumbled by the giant wall full of Wonder Bread, I blurted out five words that forever tarnished the opinion I once held of myself.
I smacked my head. My face grew redder than cherry fruit pie filling. I knew the truth. I was one of them. Fucking Wonder Bread.
In the end, our search was unsuccessful. They had no Choco-Diles. I asked the cashier if she'd gotten any in recently, with the inquiry being met with her patented Look of Confusion and a jittery "never hoid of 'em." On the upside, she let me take home this poster, featuring Twinkie the Kid, Captain Cupcake and Santa Claus. Having this up on the wall in our living room automatically pulls us into the upper class stratosphere. Especially now that Christmas is over.
Here's some of the more interesting finds from the Hostess Bakery Thriftshop. Keep in mind, I bought this stuff weeks ago and took the pictures last night. If it looks old and moldy, don't go blaming the bakery...
Spending so much time looking for old junk food is bad enough, but when you don't find the junk food, it's really frustrating. I wasn't sure if I'd ever locate a Choco-Dile, but never did I think it'd be so difficult to find anything about its mascot, "Chauncey Choco-Dile." Considering all the years Hostess spent putting characters like "Twinkie the Kid" on their commercials and in promotional plush dolls and stickers, surely Chauncey could be tracked down.
Wrong. I found a total of three images, none of which were particularly clear. I thought I had every commercial ever made in my video collection, and while I've got fourteen different trailers for "Firestarter," an exhaustive review of my tapes provided no signs of Chauncey. There's shitloads of merchandise and information available about his old compatriots, though. Aside from Twinkie the Kid and Chauncey Choco-Dile, there was "Captain Cupcake," "Fruit Pie the Magician," "Happy Ho Ho," and several other animated mascots shaped like things you ate. Even on Hostess' official site, there's no mention of Chauncey. There used to be, but he's gone now. What gives? What was Hostess trying to hide? Giving birth to Chauncey Choco-Dile was something to be proud of.
Click on either character shown above to view one of their old commercial spots. These mascots were certainly more prominent in years past, but they're by no means dead. You can find oodles of T-shirts and bumper stickers with Twinkie the Kid and Captain Cupcake, but Chauncey gets no such respect. That's him on the left. A chocolate alligator, who somehow looked more mammalian than reptilian. Chauncey didn't maintain that look throughout his history -- other images portray him with darker hair, others show him with glasses. There's a Chauncey variation to fit anyone's taste. Most of the Hostess characters spewed the familiar catch-phrase, "the snacks with a snack in the middle!" Chauncey had his own line: "It takes awhile to eat a Choco-Dile!" Awesome. Why'd they kill this guy off? Maybe Twinkie the Kid got jealous and threatened a walkout.
That's the story. Here's the climax. I found Choco-Diles. It wasn't easy, but I found Choco-Diles. This feat means nothing to those who can walk down the street and buy them, but for the rest of you, I've got some good news. You can find Choco-Diles, too. You just have to be okay with sounding like a complete idiot during a few phone calls.
My last hope? I'd read stories where people claimed to have ordered Choco-Diles from the few bakeries they're still made at, usually through overnight mail. There's no set way for regular folk to do that, though. I'd narrowed their location to the West Coast, and ultimately down to California where they're most often seen. Calling dozens of bakeries in the state, I learned a few things. Some places still made Choco-Diles, but none of the bakeries were willing to place an order by mail. Except for one.
Now, here's the bitch. I'm not going to tell you which particular bakery sent me the Choco-Diles. Mail-order is not their forte, but the manager was nice enough to ship 'em on her off hours. She did me a favor, so it'd be kind of rude to give out the number and have the store assaulted by hundreds of calls for five-dollar Choco-Dile orders. My advice? Use search engines to find a list of Hostess/Wonder bakeries in California. Call around. I guarantee that you'll find results, but it'll take some effort. Most of the bakeries will laugh at you, but some will take pity on your pathetic chocolate search.
When I finally found the right bakery, the manager informed me that they had six boxes of Choco-Diles left. She asked how many I'd like. Considering that I spent half a year searching, the answer seemed obvious. "GIVE ME EVERY CHOCO-DILE IN THE STORE."
And that she did. Sixty Choco-Diles. Shipped by UPS in what was supposed to be an overnight transaction, the Choco-Diles arrived more than a week late. Thanks, UPS. Waiting an extra week wasn't the real killer, though. They arrived on January 5th. What's the expiration date on every Choco-Dile in the box? January 5th.
My victory was bittersweet, much like the rapidly decaying Choco-Diles.
I'm not really sure what to do with them. I can't very well throw 'em away. Spent way too much time on the hunt for a finale like that. I can't host a Choco-Dile party either, as my guests would have to choose between the exit door or eating expired snack cakes. So, here I am. With sixty inedible Choco-Diles. What's a boy to do?