Bagel guru Murray Lender dies at age 81 in Fla.

March 22, 2012 - 3:28 PM
Obit Murray Lender

FILE - In this July 24, 1998 photo, Murray Lender kisses the world's largest bagel while baker Larry Wilkerson, left, and Lender's Bagel Bakery manager Jim Cudahy watch after the weight of the bagel was revealed during Bagelfest in Mattoon, Ill. Murray Lender, who helped turn his father's small Connecticut bakery into a national company that introduced bagels to many Americans for the first time, has died in Florida. He was 81. Lender's wife, Gillie Lender, tells The Associated Press that her husband died Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at a hospital in Miami from complications from a fall he suffered 10 weeks ago. The couple lived in both Aventura, Fla., and Woodbridge, Conn. (AP Photo/Journal Gazette, Doug Lawhead)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Murray Lender, who helped turn his father's small Connecticut bakery into a national company credited for introducing bagels to many Americans, has died in Florida. He was 81.

Lender, perhaps best known from promoting Lender's Bagels in TV commercials, died Wednesday at a hospital in Miami from complications from a fall he suffered at his home 10 weeks ago, his wife, Gillie Lender, told The Associated Press on Thursday. The couple, who were married more than nine years, lived in Aventura, Fla., and also kept a home in Connecticut.

"He was courageous, strong and an example to everyone to show how one should go through life with a vision, ambition, a goal and with success," Gillie Lender said.

Lender's father, Harry Lender, immigrated to the United States from Lublin, Poland, in 1927 and opened what would become Lender's Bagels that year in an 800-square-foot bakery in New Haven. Two years later, he had his wife and two sons, Hymen and Samuel, brought over from Poland to join him, according to a history of Lender's Bagels on the company's website.

At the time, bagels in America were sold mostly to Jewish families who enjoyed them with lox and cream cheese.

Murray Lender was born in 1930, and four years later Harry Lender bought a 1,200-square-foot bakery in New Haven as the business prospered. Hymen, Samuel, Harry and a younger brother, Marvin, all went on to work for the family business. Murray would serve as the company's chief executive and Marvin as president.

The Lenders say they were the first to begin selling bagels in packages to supermarkets in 1955. In 1960, two years after Harry Lender died, the Lenders say they started freezing their bagels so they could ship them outside of New Haven without worrying about them becoming stale — the first company to do so. The frozen bagel would make its way to households across the country that had never had them.

The Lenders sold the family business to Kraft Foods in 1984. Pinnacle Foods Group LLC has owned Lender's Bagels since 2003.

Murray Lender remained the company spokesman after the sale to Kraft, making commercials and appearing on talk shows.

"The frozen bagel is convenient, which is important to today's on-the-go consumers," Murray Lender told the AP in 1986.

Lender shrugged off criticism by some bagel connoisseurs that Lender's Bagels didn't taste so great.

"Taste is a very subjective matter," he told the AP. "It's clear and simple: We make 2¾ million bagels a day. Obviously an awful lot of people are happy with it."

A passionate devotee of the frozen food concept, he was chairman of the National Frozen Food Association and pioneered the first National Frozen Food Month in March 1984, a promotional effort involving manufacturers across the industry.

A stroke 13 years ago left Murray Lender unable to talk, but that didn't dim his enthusiasm for life, his wife said.

"Although he lost his speech, he was able to make you understand him with his gestures and his whole body and his expressions," Gillie Lender said. "It was remarkable. He could bring joy into a room."

His funeral is set for Saturday in Woodbridge, Conn.