Idaho Candy Company, housed in its original location since 1901 in the 8th Street Marketplace, "is perhaps the oldest building that's still operating (in Boise)," according to Dave Wagers, company president. And it's remained an independent, family owned enterprise throughout its impressive 104 years of existence.
Since Wagers' father, John, bought Idaho Candy in 1984, the company has expanded to include wholesale retail of other products, as well as manufacturing about 30 different candies on site. At their wholesale outlet off Federal Way and Broadway, Idaho Candy carries an assortment of 10,000 products, including groceries and scrumptious candies.
Wagers prefers to work on the manufacturing side of things as he appreciates the art of creating candy. "It's my favorite," he says. Though Idaho Candy is known for its holy trinity of the Idaho Spud Bar, Old Faithful Bar and Owyhee Toffee, "it's a hard market," Wagers admits. "We're definitely a small company in the industry of Hershey's, Nestle and Mars." Big business has come knocking in the past, and "there are people we can sell to," Wagers says. "But we view ourselves as caretakers of the company, not owners, and [a corporation] would go down to just the Idaho Spud Bar."
The company does not even make up one percent of the candy market and stays afloat by relying on the nostalgic history of Idaho Candy as their optimal marketing technique. And there is some idyllic Idaho trivia in the company's past. T.O. Smith began the business by selling chocolates door to door and built a modern factory (modern for 1909) at 412 S. 8th Street. Equipped with the latest in architectural innovations, namely skylights and an employee break room, some of the original equipment is still in use today. "It hasn't changed," Wagers says. "It has been updated some, but I have machines from 1915."
Even employees of Idaho Candy have tended to stay well past a typical tenure, perhaps due to the aforementioned ingenious break room or addictive quality of their product? It took 82 years for Violet (Vi) Brewer to retire from Idaho Candy, an undeniably charming tale for the brochures. In 1913, Brewer was hired at age 13 and eventually became the premier hand chocolate dipper. After 50 years of rolling and dipping, Brewer threw in an additional 30 years working in the weighing department.
Another draw to the local company is its old school family run style-owning Idaho Candy has even helped the Wagers as a family. "It's actually in some ways kept us together," Dave Wagers says. His father, John, though 73, "works more than I do" and his two brothers remain indirectly involved with the company as well. "It's fun to be part of the community," Wagers says, commenting on the benefit of the company's downtown location over manufacturing warehouses usually tucked beyond suburbia. "It is definitely a challenge to get your space and maintain your space. At least we don't smell," he adds, alluding to the not-so-brown-sugar-scented plants past Boise's city lights.
Modern day candy production has evolved from an art form into a science, yet Idaho Candy has held true to concocting creations instead of mass-marketing candy. "We made a conscious choice to have fun with what we're doing," Wager says. "A lot of candy is made by accident, and we'll continue to provide old fashioned candies and have fun in the process."