Saluting the Brand Smarts of Bagel King Murray Lender

    Murray Lender passed away last week. He was 81.

    Unless you’re a fan of Lenders bagels – to the extent that you follow the whereabouts of the face of the brand – you have no real reason to know about Murray.

    That’s OK. I don’t blame you.

    But it’s different for me. Murray Lender and his brothers, Sam, Hymie and Marvin, were my family.

    I didn’t know them personally, but the Lenders were the bright spot in my family’s bloodline. The shining star that I held onto whenever I was involved in a discussion about the most famous people in my family.

    Murray Lender’s Sensational Satellite Dish

    It’s funny: I just had this talk on Friday with our outreach department team leader, Mike Postorino, who brought up the half-court shot he made in high school that put him on the ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 and pointed out his brother is an assistant basketball coach at Georgia Tech.

    That’s pretty much the best story I’ve come across. My Lenders connection always seemed to trump anyone else’s stories of distant relatives.

    I believe that the Lenders were my father’s second cousins, but I’m not sure. I’ve maybe met them five times in my life. I once tried to put together a family tree, but I didn’t get far. The conversations about our genealogy always turn convoluted.

    My father, like parents everywhere, likes to bring up the same story, each version sensationalized a different way.

    The most memorable tale I remember him telling was the one about one of our visits to one of the Lenders brothers’ homes. I apparently was too young to remember (and the details are foggy), but my father talks about how they had the first satellite TV dish he’d ever seen. It was on a railroad track, and when they wanted to change a station, they had to push a button to move the dish to the correct position on the track.

    Who knows how true it is? My dad’s knack for dramatic punch lines could very well have just been his way of bringing up our family’s connection to something or someone famous.

    Lenders Became a National Brand

    What my dad probably didn’t understand about the connection between the Robinsons and the Lenders was that I didn’t care that they were able to buy a railroad-powered satellite dish. I was impressed by the fact that somewhere in my family’s DNA laid the ingenuity to create a successful national brand.

    I hope I got the creativity and business sense genes passed down from Murray. He didn’t just make bagels. He brought the idea of the bagel to Americans who didn’t know about anything other than toast or English muffins for their breakfast bread choice.

    He pre-sliced bagels and froze them for future consumption. He was called “the most important man in the modern history of bagels” by The Washington Post in a feature obituary.

    The Lenders took a Brooklyn favorite and nationalized it. They created something close to a generic trademark, reserved for only the world’s most elite brands.

    Not quite the Band-Aid of adhesive bandages or Kleenex of tissues, Lenders bagels are still synonymous with “cheap white-bread tasting frozen supermarket bagels.” And that’s OK, because they found a product that they were great at producing, and conjured a plan to bring their concept nationwide.

    Lender Was Marketing, Business Genius

    Murray wasn’t afraid to put his face on television ads. He created outlandish marketing stunts like the time he created a giant bagel to announce the company’s purchase by Kraft Foods, or the time he created a giant heart-shaped bagel for Valentine’s Day.

    The railroad satellite dish isn’t relevant 30 years later. The Lenders story of business expansion is and always will be relevant. Murray created a brand. He gave the family’s bagels an identity that showed off his east coast heritage.

    Modern-day celebrities flaunt jewelry, cars and houses. It’s their talent and skill that got them their glamorous lifestyle, and that’s the fulfilling success story that should be shared. It doesn’t need sensationalizing.

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