Arrested Development: Before the Banana Stand there was the Chipyard

When he burned down Bluth’s frozen banana stand, Mitchell Hurwitz was writing what he knew

Long before he was a mastermind of television comedy, Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz was a teenage business prodigy–mostly against his will. Although the 13-year-old Hurwitz knew he wanted to be a writer, there he was spending his teenage summers stuck in a stifling concessions stand, wearing a goofy uniform, peddling chocolate chip cookies. If there was money in Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Stand, there was angst and torment in its real-life analog: The Chipyard in Newport Beach.

This weekend, Netflix released all 14 hours of Arrested Development’s fourth “season” in one fell swoop. While Hurwitz was in the throes of post-production, we caught up with the Orange County-bred showrunner to discuss baked goods, dramatic catharsis, and this (mostly) forgotten piece of Balboa Boulevard history.

Mitchell Hurwitz:

When I was 12 and my brother was 15 we started our own business, the Chipyard. We were going to sell cookies off a cardboard table in our front yard, but my father put up the money for us to run a little stand on Balboa Boulevard. We had no idea what we were getting into. We sold about 20 cookies the first day, 30 cookies the next day and around mid-summer a guy from the LA Times came down. He asked to speak to the owners, and I said, “We are the owners.” He did an article about us, and the next day we sold 6,000 cookies. It was going to be a lesson in how tough it is to earn a buck for the kids, but it turned into a valuable revenue stream.

It created so much discord in the family. There was a divorce scenario playing out; it was a loaded time. My father, who’s a hilarious guy, coined the phrase “The family that works together hates each other.” He said to me, “You ought to write a play about this.” I was pretty sure I wanted to be a writer, and I told him, “No, dad. That’s impossible. You can’t write a play without conflict.” I remember him screaming with laughter as he left the Chipyard. It was an insane period of time.

My brother and I ended up slaves to that place. The idea of wearing a silly little outfit and standing inside a very cramped space and having to work while all your friends are at the beach all summer, that inspired the frozen banana stand on the show. One guy actually threatened to firebomb [the Chipyard]. I remember my brother saying, “If you feel strongly, maybe you should explore that.” Really. We wanted out.

When I showed my brother, who’s now a surgeon, a rough cut of the second episode of [Arrested Development] where George Michael burns down the banana stand, he said, “Oh, my god you burned down the Chipyard!” I was very excited about that. It was a great expiation for both of us.