On June 16th this year I woke up and had a knot in my stomach. I knew my dad had died, crazy as that sounds: He wasn't sick, and not so old. I just knew.
We were close. Very close. Despite my many years living overseas, we spoke nearly every day. And I woke up that Tuesday morning and realized that I had not heard back from him the day before. Not a call. Not an email.
I knew. And unfortunately, I was right.
Nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent. Even when you think you have said all there is to say. Even when you are totally up to date with them.
So all of a sudden, there we were, scurrying to make arrangements. Letting people know. Dealing with shock. Dealing with grief. Dealing with a level of sadness I never even knew existed.
I am based in Paris. My brother is in New York, and my dad was in LA, and therefore an added layer to the logistics of his passing. We were pressured by need to deal with "our" announcement to the "world" because not only were we dealing with our own loss, but also there was pressure from the press. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the families of celebrities to lose a loved one. It was my grief and somehow the timing, how we dealt, and what we said were being dictated by a time frame of a third party.
My dad, Norman Horowitz was quite a character: A quintessential NY Jewish television executive. Like something out of a movie, he was larger than life. No filter. Ever. He was a mentor to many. A brilliant man who spoke his mind and a pillar of the industry in his day. His last big job had been CEO of MGM/UA Telecommunications. His later years were filled blogging with rants and later via email to a "chosen few" about Corporate America. Injustice. Politics. Those that loved him, loved him immensely. I miss him terribly.
In those first 36 hours after his death, we scurried to make decisions, and plan according to his last wishes. A celebration of life was what he wanted. No maudlin ceremony. He wanted nothing of the Jewish religion that his immigrant parents had raised him with. And he wanted deli. And Mallomars.
So amidst this painful and unexpected turn of events for the summer, we planned. And I became obsessed with Mallomars.
But there was a big problem. Dipped in real dark chocolate, Mondelez International only sells them from September to March because the chocolate melts during the summer months. Perhaps from years overseas, I didn't even know what Mondelez was. Two minutes on Google taught me that they also made and/or distributed Oreos, Ritz crackers, Dentyne, and everything Nabisco. And that included Mallomars.
I found a guy selling them on ebay for $24.99/box. Never mind the cost; how was I ever going to find enough to feed the few hundred people coming to celebrate my Dad? And how could anyone be exploiting the Mallomar supply? I needed to find a solution.
Late on a Friday night, I made a decision. A longshot: I sent an email to Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Mondelez. I didn't know if I would be successful, she's gotta be very busy, but I figured they had to answer. How could they not? It was my dad, after all. And it wasn't as though I was looking for party favors for a kid's birthday party.
The subject line was "A curious Mallomar Request." The email read:
Dear Ms. Rosenfeld,
My father, Norman Horowitz, ex CEO of MGM/UA Telecommunications, passed away suddenly several weeks ago. I know this is certainly a strange solicitation, but while I grew up knowing I was loved by my larger than life father, Mallomars were a close second to my brother and I. He even blogged about them in the Huffington Post a few years ago.
He was a real character, full of passion, humor and goodwill. I am based in Paris and my brother in NY but my Dad lived in LA and asked for a Memorial and nothing maudlin or sad upon his death. And he asked for Mallomars. Seriously. In his last wishes were that we throw a fun and upbeat memorial which Fox has been kind enough to offer to host for us on August 18th at the studio. And he wanted NY Deli and Mallomars.
I have hunted high and low. I know Mallomars are seasonal (he used to whine about it every summer) but as you can appreciate, this was not a date we chose. Your switchboard has been incredible in searching as best they can (they have access to stores where they have sold them in the last 30 days but nothing on stock) I have called dozens of stores on the East coast to no avail.
I used to be with the agency that handled PepsiCo outside the US and I was thinking what I would have done if this were one of their products. And I would have reached out to Indra Nooyi's office. I am trying desperately to be creative and I have just one month to find a few dozen boxes of Mallomars.
We will pick them up if near LA or NY or are happy to have them shipped to LA but we need to find them.
Could you be so kind as to put me in touch with someone who may be able to help? Or someone who could help me come up with some sort of creative idea? At the risk of sounding terribly corny, thank you for the joy you brought him.
Very best regards -- Eileen Bastianelli
Then I crossed my fingers.
On Monday morning, at the opening of business in the US, I got an email from Adele, Head of Operations for Mondelez. They were willing to help. A bit of humanity in this moment of grief.
This was the answer I received:
Thank you so much for your email to Carol and Irene. I am very sorry for your loss and will be glad to assist with your father's wishes. As you know Mallomars are seasonal and currently in production for September; so we will do our best to secure some packages for the 18th August. You mentioned in your email a few dozen packages, so please confirm if 4-6 cases (48-72 packages is acceptable).
We have to be careful about the shipping method as Mallomars are coated in real chocolate and are shipped via conditioned transportation to avoid melting. The extreme temperatures we are experiencing now will absolutely have a detrimental effect on the product.
Many thanks, Adele
Adele Stapley Operations Manager, North America Consumer Relations
This kicked off several weeks of logistics and organization. Production of the next batch of Mallomar cookies was set to start shortly, but not in time for the service. Adele and her team rallied. They were incredible. We spoke about my Dad a lot. About how these marshmallow cookies dipped in chocolate were part of his identity. Seriously. I was touched that a big brand like theirs could be sensitive to something so micro-even if, in my world, it was everything.
In a strange way, my back and forth with this woman I had never met were a form of grief therapy. I even shared some of the articles that were written about him, particularly a wonderful tribute written about the man -- not the Executive -- by one of the many he touched. It was entitled "In memory of Norman Horowitz, Hollywood's Rable Rouser from the Bronx."
If Norman were reading this, he would say "But I digress..."
Mondelez pushed up the shipping date of the cookies. I couldn't believe it: They had literally altered their production schedule to accommodate us. We'd have the cookies in time for the memorial. It felt like winning a golden ticket from Willy Wonka!
Adele, her colleague Carol (Irene Rosenfeld's assistant), and others at the company were moments of major solace for me during those weeks. They represented a bit of humanity in a world where Norman often said there was none. And it felt good.
Everyday brands are criticized, sometimes even destroyed, on social media with complaints that they are out of touch. But, this time, Corporate America came to the rescue. It was a random act of kindness that meant so much. And yet it was so ironic: If Norman were here he would have said something sarcastic, because he was always saying something sarcastic, but I felt nothing but solace in the fact that we would have Mallomars at the service. Just like he wanted.
Our Mallomar cookies, like all Mallomars, were produced in Ontario, Canada. Fast-tracked to the Southern California office in a refrigerated container (to protect that precious dark chocolate coating,) Cory Mead, Manager of Customer Logistics, literally hand-delivered them to Fox Studios.
The day before the service, I was welcomed with cases of the precious cookies. The exchanges with our family, the guys at Fox assisting in the organization of the Memorial, and the Mondelez team were just incredible. And everyone seemed to share a feeling of joy and doing good in a normally less than joyful situation.
1000 Mallomars: A tribute to a single meaningful life.
The celebration was everything Norman wanted. If it weren't for the fact that it was for my father's death, I would have been able to appreciate it with less of a heavy heart. Hundreds of people celebrated the amazing, kind and dynamic man he was. And with the piles of Mallomars on every table, I know he would have been happy. I sure was.