YOUNGSTOWN - The end of the line for Twinkies and Ho Ho's had sponge cake lovers streaming into the Hostess Bakery Outlet here Friday with hopes of stocking their pantries.
Steve "Shorty" Prusak's goal was a little more pressing than the norm. He pulled into the West Side shop with one thing on his mind, just hours after Hostess Brands Inc. announced nationwide plans to shut down and liquidate the company.
He needed to purchase a large supply of Twinkies to ship overseas to his grandson, Louis Rossi of Poland, who was deployed in June with the U.S. Army to Afghanistan. He will be serving there for a year.
Out-of-town visitor Dominik Niziol made an impromptu detour at the Hostess Bakery Outlet in Youngstown to purchase three boxes of Twinkies.
''He said, 'Send me some Twinkies,'" said Prusak of Austintown. ''He loves them.''
Hostess, the maker of the spongy snack with a mysterious cream filling, said Friday it would shutter after years of struggling with management turmoil, rising labor costs and the ever-changing tastes of Americans.
Some of Hostess' beloved brands such as Ding Dongs and Ho Ho's likely will be snapped up by buyers and find a second life, but for now, the company says its snack cakes should be on shelves for another week or so.
The news stoked an outpouring of nostalgia around kitchen tables, water coolers and online as people relived childhood memories of their favorite Hostess goodies.
Prusak wasn't the only person making a beeline for the Hostess Bakery Outlet on Mahoning Avenue. Dominik Niziol did a Google search to locate the nearest Hostess Outlet to his Youngstown-area Hampton Inn hotel room when he heard the news Friday morning.
Niziol and Kristin Barrett were in the midst of a cross-country trek they began Nov. 4 in Washington state and were headed to Philadelphia for a new job opportunity when they heard the news about the maker of the iconic sponge cake. The news led to an impromptu detour to Youngstown's West Side.
''I love Twinkies," he said, holding a bag of three boxes he had just purchased. ''I'm so upset!''
All morning, cars pulled in and out of the outlet parking lot.
''The news has really brought them out,'' said the store's manager, who declined to give his name. ''If we were this busy all the time, we wouldn't have this problem.''
He said he had no official word of the store's future, which employs about 30 people. It has been open at least since the 1930s, he said.
Peter Tedde of Hubbard recalled visiting the store when he was a child. ''It's sad. I remember coming up here with my dad when I was a little kid.''
Likewise, Courtney Hennen of Boardman made the trip with her two small children Friday morning.
''I am here a lot, especially with the holidays coming up. I get the bread for my stuffing. That's what my grandparents always did,'' she reminisced.
It's a sober end to a storied company. Hostess, whose roster of brands dates as far back as 1888, hadn't invested heavily in marketing or innovation in recent years as it struggled with debt and management changes.
As larger competitors inundated supermarket shelves with an array of new snacks and variations on popular brands, Hostess cakes seemed caught in a bygone time. The company took small stabs at keeping up with Americans' movement toward healthier foods, such as the introduction of its 100-calorie packs of cupcakes.
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, the company's second in less than a decade. Its predecessor company, Interstate Bakeries, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 and changed its name to Hostess after emerging in 2009.
Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, had been saddled with high pension, wage and medical costs related to its unionized work force. The company had been contributing $100 million a year in pension costs; a new contract offer would've slashed that to $25 million a year, in addition to wage cuts and a 17 percent reduction in health benefits.
Tensions between management and workers were also an ongoing problem. Hostess came under fire this year after it was revealed that nearly a dozen executives received pay hikes of up to 80 percent in 2011 even as the company was struggling. Although some of those executives later agree to reduced salaries, others - including the former CEO Brain Driscoll - had left the company by the time the pay hikes came to light.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.