2012-07-28 / Top News

Murdick’s Fudge Commemorates 125th Anniversary

By James Dau


The staff of The Original Murdick’s Mackinac Island Fudge outside the store location opened by Jerome Murdick in 1957. Since then, Murdick’s has expanded its stores on Mackinac Island, as well as opening locations in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “I think it’s been really important to our business that so many of our employees come back year after year,” Bob Benser, Jr. said, “They work hard every day, and they’re a big part of why we’ve been so successful.” The staff of The Original Murdick’s Mackinac Island Fudge outside the store location opened by Jerome Murdick in 1957. Since then, Murdick’s has expanded its stores on Mackinac Island, as well as opening locations in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “I think it’s been really important to our business that so many of our employees come back year after year,” Bob Benser, Jr. said, “They work hard every day, and they’re a big part of why we’ve been so successful.” Fudge is one of Mackinac Islands iconic elements, deeply tied to its lasting appeal for visitors who travel here every year. A handmade candy that originated in Europe and traveled to the United States alongside waves of immigrants during the nation’s early history, it eventually found a home on Mackinac Island. Today, the Island hosts seven fudge companies, many with multiple stores, and they comprise the only manufacturing business on the Island. The Original Murdick’s Mackinac Island Fudge has been making it longer than anyone else.


Carrel Samuels uses a paddle to work freshly poured fudge on the marble table of The Original Murdick’s Mackinac Island Fudge. “In the kettle, fudge-making is like a science,” said co-owner Bob Benser, Jr. “Once you get it on the table, it becomes art.” Carrel Samuels uses a paddle to work freshly poured fudge on the marble table of The Original Murdick’s Mackinac Island Fudge. “In the kettle, fudge-making is like a science,” said co-owner Bob Benser, Jr. “Once you get it on the table, it becomes art.” Murdick’s celebrated its 125th anniversary Thursday, July 26, by giving pieces of fudge to everyone who passed through the doors of any of its five stores in the Straits of Mackinac area.

“You didn’t really think a fudge shop would celebrate its birthday with cake, did you?” asked Bob Benser, Jr., a part owner. While the Bensers are not the founding family of the business, they continue its traditions.


Employees of the St. Ignace Murdick’s Fudge store include (from left) Hayley York, Filip Stankovic, Kathy Arnold, and Aleksandar Gicev. Mrs. Arnold has managed the store for 28 years and Miss York, a senior at LaSalle High School, is her granddaughter. Mr. Stankovic is spending his first summer in St. Ignace and says he likes his job and the location. He is a citizen of Bulgaria. Mr. Gicev, who is from Macedonia, is also in St. Ignace for the first time this summer. “I like the culture here,” he said, “It is different. People are warm, open, very communicative.” Employees of the St. Ignace Murdick’s Fudge store include (from left) Hayley York, Filip Stankovic, Kathy Arnold, and Aleksandar Gicev. Mrs. Arnold has managed the store for 28 years and Miss York, a senior at LaSalle High School, is her granddaughter. Mr. Stankovic is spending his first summer in St. Ignace and says he likes his job and the location. He is a citizen of Bulgaria. Mr. Gicev, who is from Macedonia, is also in St. Ignace for the first time this summer. “I like the culture here,” he said, “It is different. People are warm, open, very communicative.” In 1887, 125 years ago, father and son Henry and Jerome Murdick came to Mackinac Island with their family, where their skills as sail makers were employed in crafting large canvas awnings for the construction of Grand Hotel. With the hotel’s completion, the family remained on the Island, opening its first candy shop, Murdick’s Candy Kitchen. While his father made sails in the back of the shop, Jerome began making fudge for Island visitors using family recipes of his mother, Sara. Then, as now, fudge was made at the front of the store for all to see, spread out and refolded on the marble table that lends Murdick’s fudge its texture.


Murdick’s Fudge employees in Mackinaw City include manager Kelly Vincent (left) and employee and night manager Lorie Thompson. The Mackinaw City location makes the popcorn and caramel corn for all three Murdick’s locations, which are Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and St. Ignace. Murdick’s Fudge employees in Mackinaw City include manager Kelly Vincent (left) and employee and night manager Lorie Thompson. The Mackinaw City location makes the popcorn and caramel corn for all three Murdick’s locations, which are Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and St. Ignace. “We use all natural ingredients today, the same as then,” said Ron Steensma, 38-year Murdick’s employee and part-owner. “A lot of things have changed since the early days, but we’ve worked very hard to keep our fudge as good as it always has been.”

Jerome imparted his fudgemaking skills to his son, Gould, and the father and son duo continued the work of the family business through the 1910s and 1920s. The First World War presented challenges to the Murdick family and their business, as the stillyoung Mackinac Island tourism industry was reduced and the rationing of sugar made candymaking a more difficult venture. With the end of the war came a new era of prosperity for Murdick’s and much of the rest of the nation, and during the 1920s the family expanded both its store and product selection. Music was added to the store to help draw in the renewed crowds of visitors to the Island, and taffy and peanut candy complemented their original fudge product. It was during this time that the entire fudgemaking process was brought into the view of the public, a process that can still be seen today.

“Essentially, we measure out the sugar, cream, and butter and cook it all together in a pot,” explained Mr. Steensma, who began his Murdick’s career as a fudge maker. “Once it’s been cooked, we pour it out on the tables and add whatever other ingredients we need to, like peanuts or almonds. From there we fold it over on itself until it turns into one long 32- pound loaf of fudge.”

“The fudge-making process really starts with water,” said Mr. Benser. “The temperature we cook our fudge ingredients to in the kettle is based on the boiling point of water, which changes slightly every day depending on the barometric pressure and weather conditions. We then adjust the temperature we cook the ingredients to, based on how that changes. In the kettle, fudge-making is like a science. Once you get it on the table, it becomes art.”

During the 1920s, as Murdick’s enjoyed post-war prosperity, other fudge makers began to appear on the Island, giving Jerome and Gould their first true competition since the business was founded. Their success was not to last, however, as the Great Depression began in 1929. By the time the Depression transitioned into the Second World War, Murdick’s was the only fudge shop left. Jerome Murdick passed away during this time, leaving the fate of the business to rest solely on his son’s shoulders. The war placed new stress on an already-taxed company, as a renewed sugar ration greatly reduced the amount of fudge Murdick’s could produce. Records from this period sometimes show the sale of only one pound of fudge in a day.

Wearied from the trials of running a Depression-era business, Gould sold the shop in 1940 to his fudge maker, Harold May, along with a promise that the Murdick family would not compete in the Island fudge business for at least a decade. In fact, the Murdick family would not return to the fudge business for 17 years.

In 1957, Gould’s half-brother, Jerome Murdick, named for their father, opened Murdick’s Luncheonette on Mackinac Island and began to sell fudge alongside his other food items. Gradually, he shifted the business to focus once more on fudge and renamed it Murdick’s Candy Kitchen in honor of the family’s original store. As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, Jerome and his wife, Grace, befriended Bob Benser, Sr., who ran the Tastee Freeze ice cream shop next door to Murdick’s. As Jerome’s health began to fail, Mr. Benser, Sr. stepped in to help, learning fudge making and assisting with the everyday operations of the business. In 1969 the Murdicks sold him the business.

Upon taking over the business, Mr. Benser, Sr. hired both Mr. Steensma and Patty LaPine to help him run the shop.

“In the winters back in the late ’50s, Mr. Benser sold cars in Grand Rapids, and we became friends,” Mr. Steensma explained. “He made me an offer to come up here and work for him, and it’s been great so far.”

Mr. Steensma was a fudge maker for eight years before transitioning into a management position, and is now part-owner of the company, along with Bob Benser, Jr.

“Every summer is challenging,” Mr. Steensma said, “but we’ve been fortunate to have had some great people working for us the whole time, and Mr. Benser has been a great partner in all this.”

Mrs. LaPine first came to Murdick’s 38 years ago on a Mackinac Island vacation.

“I had just graduated and needed a job, and I saw Murdick’s had a help wanted sign in the window,” she said. “Even though I was on vacation, I applied, and they hired me as a sales clerk.”

Mrs. LaPine now trains all of the sales clerks for the business.

“I’ve really liked working for the Bensers,” she said, “and the Island has become my home.”

Under the Benser family, Murdick’s has expanded. With stores not only on Mackinac Island, but also in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Murdick’s fudge reaches a population far wider than Henry Murdick could have imagined 125 years ago.

“It’s really all about the excellent employees we’ve had,” said Mr. Benser Jr., “the people who make it happen here every day. My father and I both want to recognize

…Ron Steensma for his years of dedication, service, and professionalism, as well as Patty LaPine and Kathy Arnold for their longtime excellent service to Murdick’s.”

“Fudge is one of the things that makes Mackinac Island stand out,” Mr. Benser, Jr. added, “and everyone who makes it here does it right and does it well.”

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