By Jason McLure
(Reuters) - Murray Lender, who made a traditionally Jewish food a staple of American cuisine and built a frozen bagel empire, died on Wednesday in Miami Beach, Florida, after a 10-week illness. He was 81.
He became the face of Lender's Bagels in the 1970s and 1980s when he appeared on television advertisements encouraging people unfamiliar with bagels to try them.
"It's not so easy telling people that after all those years of eating toast for breakfast, now there's something better," Lender said in one ad from the 1980s. "But it's not so hard either."
Lender's father immigrated from Poland to the United States in 1927 and opened a bakery in New Haven, Connecticut, where he made bagels, a doughnut shaped bread that is boiled and then baked. Lender and his siblings took over the family bakery in the 1960s and built the bagel line into a national brand. "He took this idea of a bagel, which in the 1960s was primarily a product eaten by Jews in the greater New York area, and he envisioned this product becoming available to everyone in the country," Marvin Lender, his brother and business partner, said in a telephone interview.
"The way we did that was through the vehicle of frozen foods. Because of his marketing and sales prowess we took every penny we had and directed it toward advertising." The Lenders grew the company from seven employees in 1963 to 700 in 1984, when they sold it to Kraft Foods. Kraft retained Lender as a spokesman for two years after it purchased the company. Lender's Bagels was later sold to cereal-maker Kellogg Company, which in turn sold the company to Pinnacle Foods Group, based in Peoria, Illinois. Later in life, he and his brother spent two years running a bagel restaurant company in Israel, where bagels are not widely eaten, Marvin Lender said.
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)