fb-pixel Skip to main content

From a giant pot brownie to a Dunkin’ duck, 2021 marked another weird year for Boston businesses

Grab a can of Archer Roose and make yourself a fluffernutter to catch up on a few of the stranger twists

Meet "Munchkin," the duck who has millions of online followers and loves drinking ice water from Dunkin'.Krissy Ellis/Instagram

Here in Boston, you don’t need to look far to see the wackier side of the business world emerge from hibernation as we wrap up year two of a seemingly interminable pandemic, even if many of us remain stuck in WFH mode. So break out a can of Archer Roose Sauvignon Blanc. Make yourself a fluffernutter, or maybe a THC-laced brownie. And catch up on a few of the stranger twists and turns you might have missed along the way in 2021.

Feel the Bern: Thank Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for delivering one of the year’s first big meme moments after he attended President Biden’s inauguration dressed like, well, a Vermonter. The image of Sanders bundled up with oversized mittens (made from repurposed sweaters and recycled bottles, of course) was replicated just about everywhere: on the Iron Throne, on the couch with the cast of “Friends,” hanging out with characters such as Deadpool and Forrest Gump. Here’s one place we did not expect to see Bernie and his mittens: in Boston Planning & Development Agency documents. But WS Development inserted his photo in a winter rendering of its Fenway project, huddled near an ice cream shop. Tucked away on page 72 of a 1,054-page document, it’s safe to say this is one Bernie that did not go viral.


WSDevelopment stuck in a viral photo of Bernie Sanders in a rendering.WSDevelopment

Do not pass Go: The hottest ticket in Worcester this year wasn’t for the newly opened Polar Park. No, we’re talking about a spot in the new Monopoly game, from Top Trumps USA. The Hasbro licensee sought suggestions for 34 spaces on the game board — and boy, did the City of Seven Hills respond, with 60,000 e-mails. Of those, hundreds proposed saving a space for Polar Beverages and/or its bearish mascot, Orson, after the local seltzer company’s cry went out on social media: “Our hometown is about to get Monopolized! And we want in.” But neither the beverage manufacturer nor the ballpark that bears its name ended up on the board. (A spokeswoman later joked: “Maybe if they come up with a ‘Worcester Beverages Edition’ we’d have a chance of making it.”)


Menu readjustment: Panera Bread decided to relocate its Needham corporate office to West Newton, to share digs with the Rockport shoe company. But that was not the biggest event for the café chain this year. Not by a long shot. How about a new swimsuit line? Yep, you heard right. The company sold trunks and one-piece suits to its fans — including a pair of shorts inspired by its broccoli cheddar soup and a pool float designed to look like a bread bowl. A reward for sticking with Panera’s hot dishes in the warm months? Because nothing says fun in the sun like lime-green Lycra with the word “SOUP” emblazoned across it.

Uncorking it: Selling “luxury wine” in a can? It might help to have a famous actress on your side. Archer Roose chief executive Marian Leitner-Waldman lined up Elizabeth Banks to be the Boston winemaker’s chief creative officer as well as a co-owner. Their first ad together, designed by Boston-based Colossus, features the Pittsfield native making herself at home in a mockup of Leitner-Waldman’s place, clipping her toenails in the kitchen sink and complaining about a clogged toilet. The bathrobe-clad Banks has a eureka moment while swigging some Archer Roose. She shouts to her reluctant new housemate: I should be the brand’s spokesperson! “I said ‘no thanks.’ A celebrity beverage endorser?” a frustrated Leitner deadpans. “That’s so cliché. But she just told me that she works here now.”


Let it slide: EzCater launched its first big ad campaign in mid-summer, deliberately timed to when most office workers were supposed to start coming back to their cubicles. The video ads featured a floor-to-ceiling water slide, ending by the office copier. Certainly the promise of a Water Wizz-style playground would tempt workers back, right? As waterlogged workers frittered away their workday, two mid-level managers surveyed the scene, and wondered if they should have offered free food instead — perhaps through a certain Boston-based catering startup? (EzCater clearly missed a chance at cross-promotion with Panera’s swimsuit designers.) The whole return-to-office thing didn’t quite go as planned in 2021, of course. But at least ezCater made a big splash.

EzCater's first-ever TV ads feature a water slide as a less effective way to bring the troops back to the office than free food.Photo courtesy of ezCater

Orange you smart: Everyone knows how bad OJ tastes following an ill-timed tooth-brushing. Blech. Leave it to Tropicana and its marketing teams, a group that includes MullenLowe in Boston, to think of a workaround. They squeezed out a “Tropicana Toothpaste” with contract manufacturer Dynamic Blending, to coincide with National Brush Day on Nov. 1. (Yes, there is such a thing.) No sodium lauryl sulfate, the ingredient that causes that bad aftertaste. It was meant to be a one-time publicity stunt. But with ideas like this, maybe Tropicana’s communications folks can push the juice maker to branch out into dental hygiene in a more serious way.


Birds of a feather: Forget Gronk or Big Papi. Dunkin’ may have found its new spokesperson. Or maybe you could call her a spokesduck. Krissy Ellis and her white duck Munchkin became Internet sensations once Ellis started sharing videos of the bird drinking her favorite order at the local Dunkin’: a medium water with extra ice. The Pennsylvania resident became a full-time social media influencer this year with more than 2.5 million followers on TikTok alone, earning thousands of dollars a month through video views and sponsorships. Canton-based Dunkin’ Brands is not among the sponsors, though a spokeswoman said the company remains proud to keep America running — “ducks included!”

Cozy condo alternative: If you’re wondering just how crazy the Greater Boston housing market became this year, head out on Route 9 in Newton. There you will find a 250-square-foot house, hard by the highway, that hit the market for nearly $450,000. There are closets in nearby homes that are bigger. Several offers fell through after lenders balked. So it took a cash buyer to win what has to be the smallest single-family home in the area, for a price of $315,000. (For comparison, the so-called Skinny House in the North End, with nearly five times as much space and a much better location, sold for $1.25 million.) The listing for the Newton house promised that it’s ideal for “Casual Stays, Guest Home, Meditation, Exercise Room, Storage, or Whatever You Desire.” Missing from the list was its most likely use: Airbnb.


A Newton home of just 251 square feet.Vis-home

Getting baked: National Brownie Day — yes, there is such a thing — rolled around this month. And MariMed, the Norwood cannabis business, knew just the right way to celebrate: with an 850-pound, pot-infused brownie. The MariMed team needed more than 1,300 eggs, 250 pounds of sugar, and more than 200 pounds of butter — along with enough THC to roll a thousand joints. When a Boston.com reporter inquired about how to eat a 3-foot-thick brownie, a spokesman responded by saying: “If I could unhinge [my] jaw like a snake, then that way.” Maybe they’re eating their own cooking?

Typical Massachusetts Fluff: It may have taken a century, but Marshmallow Fluff manufacturer Durkee Mower should be psyched about this milestone: Merriam-Webster has finally added the word “fluffernutter” to the dictionary. We’re surprised it didn’t happen sooner, what with Merriam-Webster being based in Massachusetts and all. But a Merriam-Webster spokeswoman told WBUR that the word is finally gaining wider usage outside of New England, calling it a “regional term that’s made good.” That said, the Springfield dictionary publisher didn’t waste any time adding “ghost kitchen” to the lexicon, a sure sign that this unfortunate trend of online-only restaurants is gaining traction nationwide.

A jar of Marshmallow Fluff and a Fluffernutter sandwich are displayed in North Andover. Elise Amendola

Movie magic: Moviemaking rebounded in Massachusetts, with big budget productions and streaming shows taking advantage of the state’s varied locales and the generous tax credits. Meanwhile, a blockbuster flick shot in 2019 on the streets of downtown Boston — the Ryan Reynolds vehicle “Free Guy” — finally hit the theaters. Financial District denizens might prefer the gun-toting avatars roaming Post Office Square in the movie to the lifeless scene the district has become in real life, with the surrounding office towers still largely empty. Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio visited the district in January to shoot “Don’t Look Up,” the new Netflix movie about an impending apocalyptic catastrophe and the politicians and others who don’t take the characters’ warnings seriously. That’s science fiction, right?

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.