Admit it. Jellybeans have gotten a little boring. They're cute, they're sweet, they have friends in high places, but are they enough? Can the truly Washington-obsessed survive with only one officially sanctioned food?
No. Something had to be done.
Introducing the official inaugural line of edibles: mints, trail mix and champagne, and, of course, the ubiquitous Jelly Belly jellybeans, all approved by the Committee for the 50th American Presidential Inaugural. It's a Washingtonian's dream come true: snack food that's not only tasty, it's patriotic.
Take the trail mix -- a combination of macadamias, almonds, cashews, dried bananas, papaya, apricots and a whole lot of other stuff manufactured and sold by the national chain Morrow's Nut House. The mix already has an impressive pedigree. This is not just any official food. This is the trail mix that flies with the astronauts on the space shuttle. Shuttlemix, they call it.
"We have a store just outside of Houston, and the astronauts would come in and buy the stuff," says Morrow's president, Howard Morrow. "They went to their food lab people and asked them if they could take it up with them. So the people from the laboratory came into the store, bought 30 pounds of it, tested -- whatever it is they do to it. The next thing we knew, this stuff was up on the shuttle."
All of which intrigued the members of the Morrow family, who range, according to Howard Morrow, from "Republican" to "rabid Republican." Within six months, they were donating between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of Shuttlemix to the delegates to the Republican National Convention.
"We became, if you will, the offical snack of the convention," Howard Morrow says.
And now, the inaugural. After approval from the inaugural committee, payment of a "negligible" fee and agreement to hand over 15 percent of retail sales to the committee, Morrow's was licensed to display the official inaugural seal on the Shuttlemix. And now you, the humble inaugural fan, can purchase a box of "Morrow's Inaugural Nibbles" for $8 plus packing, shipping, insurance and sales tax.
The committee expects the licensed food and drink to bring in about $75,000. Korbel champagne paid $50,000 for the right to be the official bubbly, and that's where the real money is. The munchies are less lucrative, more public relations than anything else.
Inaugural aficionados have short memories, and no one is quite sure if Herbert Hoover, for instance, licensed anyone to sell official inaugural comestibles. But everyone agrees that the 1985 committee is pursuing the licensing market enthusiastically.
"It's a revenue item for us," says committee marketing director Douglas Blaser.
But for others, it's not just business. It's their moment in the inaugural sun.
"I think it's the most interesting thing that ever happened to me," says Guy M. Robitaille, whose company, Switzer's of Santa Barbara, Calif., makes the official mint of the inaugural.
Like the Morrows, Robitaille is not completely new to the political world of eating. His mints, which are described on the box as "creamy," are served in the White House, received raves from Queen Elizabeth and prompted a personal call from President Reagan.
"The president phoned me at home and he talked to me for about 12 minutes," says Robitaille. "He was so kind and so courteous and such a human being. It was beautiful, really."
The Reagans met Robitaille's mints during the queen's visit. After the mint maker's daughter read that mints were the royal visitor's favorite candy, Robitaille got to work.
"It's got to be cleared and cleared and cleared," he says. "It took two months." But finally, the mints got aboard the Britannia and into the Reagans' ranch, and the rest is mint history.
Robitaille says many people have asked if he's hoping his mints can compete with jellybeans for the president's favor.
"I think the president likes jellybeans and he likes my mints," says Robitaille. "They're two different candies, really. My mints -- it's a gourmet item. You have them after a meal. Jellybeans -- you can watch a TV western and eat them."
Robitaille estimates he sells the White House about 40,000 mints a year, and that official inaugural use and sales to the public will take about half a million mints. Eighty percent of them will be, naturally, red, white and blue.
"You know," says Robitaille, "it isn't often you see a blue mint. They're not easy to make."
Red mints are also quite a challenge.
"The reason I originally made a red mint was Nancy Reagan," he says. "I knew she liked red, and she liked my mints, so I said, 'I'm going to make her a red mint.' I worked and worked on the thing. I started two years ago on it and I finally completed it last Valentine's Day. These reds are really red, and the blues are as royal as you can get."
In addition to perfecting the red and the blue, official food purveyors have other problems to deal with. Robitaille employs only seven people in his candy factory (which also makes peanut brittle), and for the sudden inaugural rush he's had to pull in his entire family to help with the packing. But even with the extra help, he can only go so fast because the mints are hand-shaped by one mint-master wielding a funnel and spoon, and he didn't have time to train another.
"Right now, I'm spread pretty thin," he says.
Gary Heck, president of Korbel champagne, was faced with a similar problem after learning his Korbel Brut might be selected as the official champagne. He first received tentative word in late November and immediately pulled 1,800 cases from his reserve supply to start the corking process, which takes six weeks. Last weekend, the Heck family pasted the official inaugural label on all 1,800 cases, which will arrive in Washington this morning.
"It's more of the honor than it is anything else," he says. "We run out of product every year. It's the prestigious thing to do."
But the line between prestige and business can be a thin one.
"If you go to England, any grocer is the 'Purveyor to Her Majesty the Queen,' or was to King George 300 years ago," says Howard Morrow. "I think that's a really nice tradition. It makes for pride in the country. We're not the purveyor of nuts to the White House, but I think they ought to do that. I don't think it would hurt anyone. Then you could have the purveyor of nuts to the White House, or laundry soap or whatever. We're built on free enterprise, and this is like a medal."
Back at the inaugural committee, Blaser has only one regret. Someone suggested the committee license a product called Mom's Cookies as the official cookie of the inaugural, but the firm turned out to be too small to handle the demand.
"If we could have had Mom's Cookies, and then apple pie," says Blaser, "we would have had it all, wouldn't we?"