There's a chance one of those chocolate marshmallow eggs you got in your Easter basket when you were a kid was made by Idaho Candy Company, the all-things-sweet Boise landmark that has been manufacturing delights for more than a century.
"We make these for another company back East, but I can't tell you who they are," said Idaho Candy Co. President Dave Wagers, smiling and pointing to a container of candy eggs. "We'll make about a half-million of them: chocolate and dark chocolate."
That's one of many secrets at Idaho Candy, which swung open its doors on Eighth Street in 1909 and is still producing more than 1 million confections each year, including the Idaho Spud and Cherry Cocktail candy bars, Owyhee Butter Toffee and the Huckleberry Gem candy bar (introduced in 2012). Some of the recipes date back more than 100 years.
Wagers' father, John, purchased Idaho Candy in 1984 and Dave worked summers there when he was a kid. He had no intention of having a career at a candy company, though, and went to work for billionaire Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems in Texas, Virginia and Europe.
When Wagers' dad asked that one of his three sons become Idaho Candy's next plant manager in 1991, Dave returned to his hometown and, this year, he'll celebrate his 25th anniversary in the family business.
"It's funny how life always brings you back home," Wagers said.
I'm presuming this business is as much a science as it an art.
If you're any good at it, it's more art. Mars and Hershey's? It's a lot more science there.
And your recipes have been around for a while.
Since the early 20th century.
What in those ingredients have changed over the years? Preservatives?
I'm actually trying to back away from preservatives. We're always looking to clean up the label.
What does that mean?
No artificial flavoring or preservatives.
Let's talk about your location. Your storefront is clearly a showcase, but this would be the last place I would put a manufacturing facility.
A 24,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in the middle of a city. The only thing close is Meadow Gold Dairy, and they're not really in the middle of downtown.
Doesn't Idaho Candy use all four floors of this building to its advantage?
The chocolate is done in the basement, where it's more temperate. Our main office and showroom is on the ground floor. Brittle and toffees are made on the second floor and the marshmallows are on the top floor. We don't have any air conditioning there.
And that's by design?
Air conditioning would add humidity, and that makes it harder to make candy.
So is it fair to assume Idaho's climate works in your favor?
The climate is spectacular for making candy. That said, global warming has become more of an issue. It can get so hot in July now, that, on occasion, we can't get the chocolate right. You have to handle chocolate very quickly and if it's too warm, the chocolate can't set up, and you have to slow everything down.
Are you doing everything you want to be doing?
I get to do so many different things. It's really fun; and believe it or not, I still like fixing the machines all these years later. Working at Idaho Candy can be a real adventure. You may come home some evenings covered in corn starch and it can get pretty hot up on that top floor.
We probably need to grow. At some point, it's going to be much harder to manufacture at our location and we may have to move, but if we were to build a $2 million plant, the candy company will need to sustain that. We're really the stewards of Idaho Candy. This company and the Idaho Spud means something to most Idahoans if they've been around for a while. I don't want to be the guy who screws that up.