Morrie Yohai, 90; Cheez Doodle king helped select toys for Cracker Jack

Morrie Yohai said he came up with the snack product’s name. Morrie Yohai said he came up with the snack product’s name. (Bill Davis/ Newsday/ File 2005)
By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times / August 4, 2010

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NEW YORK — The millions of snackers who cannot stop munching Cheez Doodles, those air-puffed tubes of cheddar-flavored corn meal, owe all that pleasure to Morrie Yohai, although he insisted on spreading the credit.

Mr. Yohai — who always said it was “we’’ who “developed’’ rather than invented the snack, sharing the acclaim with colleagues at the factory he owned in the Bronx — died July 27 at his home in Kings Point, N.Y., said his son, Robbie. He was 90.

“Is this Mr. Cheez Doodles?’’ a cashier once asked Mr. Yohai’s wife, Phyllis, when he accompanied her to a local supermarket. Phyllis Yohai liked to let everyone know of her husband’s contribution to between-meal crunchies, according to a 2005 Newsday profile. Their sumptuous home overlooking Long Island Sound was “the house the Cheez Doodles bought,’’ she liked to say.

Mr. Yohai was the president of Old London Foods, the company founded by his father in the early 1920s and then called King Kone, which first produced ice cream cones and later popcorn, cheese crackers, and Melba toast.

“They were looking for a new salty snack and became aware of a machine that processed corn meal under high pressure into a long tube shape,’’ Robbie Yohai said Monday. “They also discovered that if they used a high-speed blade, similar to a propeller, they could cut 3-inch-long tubes, which then could be flavored with orange cheddar cheese and seasonings.’’ Then baked, not fried.

Although Mr. Yohai insisted on the “we’’ credit for the recipe, he did say that he came up with the product name. First marketed in the late 1950s, Cheez Doodles became so popular that by 1965 Old London Foods was bought by Borden Foods. Mr. Yohai became vice president of Borden’s snack food division, which, among other products, made Drake’s Cakes and Cracker Jack.

One of his duties, he said, was sitting with other executives and choosing which toys would be stuffed into Cracker Jack boxes.

Morrie Robert Yohai was born in Harlem.

Design credit notwithstanding, Mr. Yohai took pride in the popularity of Cheez Doodles. At his home, he kept a photograph of Julia Child digging into a bag.

In 2004, he, his wife, and children visited a museum in Napa Valley, Calif., where an artist, Sandy Skoglund, had mounted a lifesize installation showing several people at a cocktail party, all covered in Cheez Doodles.

“My mother told everyone in the entire museum that he invented them,’’ Robbie Yohai said.