Tam Tam vs. Tum Tum: A tale of two feuding Canadian matzah bakeries

Harry Gula's matzah factory, 1948. Gula is second from right. (Credit: Ontario Jewish Archives)

What company comes to mind when I say matzah? Chances are you thought of Manischewitz. Since its founding by Rabbi Dov Ber Manischewitz in Cincinnati in 1888, the Manischewitz brand has become nearly synonymous with Passover, dominating the matzah market. This was certainly true 75 years ago, when in 1948 the company made a big plunge into the Canadian market with the establishment of a factory in Longueuil—an off-island suburb of Montreal—after decades of exporting products to Canada.

One might expect this to be the classic story of a big, successful American company entering the Canadian market and squashing the homegrown competition. But this story is… a bit messier. This is in large part due to one particularly industrious Toronto Jew: Herschel “Harry” Gula, founder and owner of Harry Gula’s Tasty Matzo Bakery. While neither Manischewitz nor Gula’s Bakery were the first matzah bakeries in Canada, the interaction of the two companies, which devolved into a legal battle, is a fascinating chapter of Canadian Jewish history.

In the era in which our story takes place, Manischewitz was already an established brand with a strong consumer base. Ads for their products can be found across hundreds of issues of both Jewish and non-Jewish newspapers across Canada. In 1943, the Montreal Star reported that the company was studying the feasibility of opening a factory in Canada.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Harry Gula had already been hard at work growing his business. Born in Bogoria, Poland, Gula immigrated with his wife and children to Canada in 1910. By the 1930s he had established himself as one of the prominent Jewish bakers on Dundas Street. His matzah company was officially established in the 1940s and midway through the decade moved into its location at 1267 Queen St. W.  

Around the same time, the B. Manischewitz Company encountered something of a nuisance: Gula’s Bakery was found to be selling a product called ‘Tum Tums.’ For the uninitiated, one way that Manischewitz managed to transform a one-week-a-year seasonal business into a year-round profit was by using its machines to manufacture its famous hexagonally shaped Tam Tam crackers. Not only was the name of Gula’s product eerily similar to Manischewitz’s product, Gula also used remarkably similar packaging. And so Manischewitz took Harry Gula to federal court.

Harry Gula was no stranger to the courtroom. In fact, contemporary newspapers show that Gula appeared there often. In the 1930s, Gula became embroiled in labour disputes with both current and former employees. In 1933, Gula lost a case he had brought against former employee Edward Radiecz, whom he had accused of theft. In the verdict, Gula was found to owe him back wages.

Similar situations were described in the cases of Mary Ignaizewaska (1935), who claimed owed wages from Gula, and Walter Novack (1941), Gula’s former bread driver from 1933 to 1940. In 1934, Gula filed a legal complaint against picketing bakers who were blocking others from entering to work. Gula was in court so often that, in one 1930 case brought by Gula’s wife against a laundromat, the judge proclaimed not to believe her given his frequent dealings with her husband.

In the end, Manischewitz won the ‘Tam Tam vs. Tum Tum’ case, and Gula was barred from using the Tum Tum name. Interestingly, the case of Manischewitz Co. vs. Gula has become an important early example in Canadian case law regarding trademarks for languages other than English and French. The ruling stated that even though the word ‘tam’ “conveys the meaning of ‘taste or tasty’ to a Hebrew or Yiddish speaking person it would not for that reason be unregistrable.”

Following the court’s ruling, Gula’s reaction was immediate. At the time, the Globe and Mail reported the following comments from Gula:

“Faced with this discouraging news, Mr. Gula took it like a man, and within two minutes (he had some stuff in the oven at the time) had a new trade name for his product and plans for a new package… And what was Mr. Gula going to call his product now? ‘Tasty Wafers,’ said Mr. Gula without a moment’s hesitation. ’No, wait a minute… Mr. Gula consulted with someone in the shop. ‘Yes, Tasty Wafers. We’re going to change the design of the box, too.’”

With the matter resolved, Manischewitz proceeded with their plans to open a factory in Canada. In February 1948, the B. Manischewitz Company of Canada was officially incorporated. That April, just weeks before Passover, the factory was opened to great fanfare. A formal dedication ceremony was held, attended by an impressive selection of important figures from across Canadian Jewry, including prominent rabbis, leaders of Canadian Jewish Congress, the Community Council of Montreal, and members of the Manischewitz family. Bernard Manischewitz assumed the role of president of the company’s Canadian branch, and William Manischewitz that of secretary treasurer. 

Curiously, shortly after, Harry Gula held a dedication-like event at his own new factory, despite having moved there several years prior. Indeed, there were a number of individuals who attended both affairs.

In reading through old newspaper stories, one might conclude the competition for consumers was fierce. Ads for Gula’s matzah were accompanied with pleas to support a homegrown Canadian company, and emphasized their use of all-Canadian ingredients.

Similarly, after the opening of its Longueuil factory, Manischewitz began to strongly emphasize its all-Canadian production line. The ads continue in this manner for an intense period of two short years—in both the Yiddish and English press, as well as non-Jewish newspapers.

Then, on May 30, 1950, Harry Gula passed away. It appears the company folded fairly quickly in the wake of his death. By February 1951, the factory was listed for sale as part of the closing of an estate. Why did no one take over the factory? Several reasons may be speculated. Maybe no one wanted to take over the business; maybe Manischewitz truly squashed them; or maybe the business was never in a good way to begin with, given Gula’s past history with labour disputes and missed wages. All of these, of course, remain to be proven or disproven.

These days, I am unsure if the relationships between different matzah bakeries are quite as dramatic. Manischewitz continues to dominate the market (and now entertains us through its highly amusing social media feeds) while Gula’s Tasty Matzo is largely forgotten beyond a preserved collection of photographs. Manischewitz remained in its Longueuil branch until 1967 when it moved its Canadian operations to Winnipeg, which has since closed. How might things have been different had Gula not passed away then? Would he have managed to continue putting up a fight, acting as a thorn in Manischewitz’s side? We’ll never know.