eon Pordy, embattled president of Chock Full O'Nuts Corp., invited truculent stockholders at the company's annual meeting to sample Chock Full's coffee and "our delicious new line of cakes."
"That's what Marie Antoinette said!" shouted a malcontent among the standees at the rear of the crowded hotel ballroom.
Pordy smiled. But it was one of the few light moments at a long, tumultuous meeting at which Chock Full's incumbent management sought to fend off a challenge from a dissident slate headed by prominent business executive Jerry Finkelstein.
Cries of "liar" and "we don't believe you" punctuated the meeting as Pordy defended the company's performance under its current management and Finkelstein implored the stockholders to give their proxies to his rival slate of directors and "throw out" the incumbents.
At one point, Pordy and Finkelstein stood shouting at each other. "You're out of order," yelled Pordy, presiding in the absence -- for the 13th consecutive year -- of William Black, Chock Full's ailing, 80-year-old founder and chairman. "No, you're out of order," Finkelstein retorted. "You're out of order," Pordy roared. "You'll be out of order when this meeting is over and the votes are counted," Finkelstein shot back.
In fact, the results of the proxy struggle will not be tabulated until Dec. 15. Neither Finkelstein -- who with his associates owns about 16.6 percent of Chock Full's stock -- nor Pordy would predict the outcome.
Finkelstein and his associates charge that Chock Full, a New York institution that began as a nut stand in 1926, has failed to realize its potential because it is run by an absentee chairman, Black, and a part-time president, Pordy, a cardiologist with a Park Avenue practice.
Pordy and the incumbent team at Chock Full say their company is doing better than any of Finkelstein's, and that Finkelstein knows nothing about coffee, which accounts for about 85 percent of Chock Full's $115.8 million annual sales.
Pordy charged that Finkelstein solicited an offer from Black to buy him out for $25 a share when the stock was selling about $18. "He wanted to take his money and leave out all you stockholders," Pordy said.
"Would you leave right now if you got $23 a share?" Pordy yelled at Finkelstein. "There's the door. Answer the question."
Finkelstein said the buy-out charge was "a lie." He contended it was Black who asked to buy him and his partners out, and he pledged that, if he gets control of the company, he never will sell his own stock for a better price than other shareholders could get.
Finkelstein, 66, chairman of Struthers Wells Corp. and head of the National Law Journal, organized a slate of 15 outsiders who are seeking to oust the present directors, of whom 13 are Chock Full executives, including Black's wife, Page.
"Nobody on this slate wants a job," he said. "We want to get the No. 2 man at one of the great food companies like Burger King -- professional management," to expand Chock Full's business by franchising its restaurants and developing some of its choice New York real estate.
Pordy, however, said that Chock Full increased its revenues, earnings and net worth in the past year, and paid dividends, unlike Struthers Wells, which lost money.
Opinion among the hundreds of stockholders seemed divided about evenly. But several who took the microphone said they disapproved of both slates. "A pox on both your houses," said Marilyn Jacobs. "I'm dismayed by this autocratic absentee management, but I don't think Mr. Finkelstein is here to help this company."