Few things in this world are as nearly universally loved as candy. Just thinking about it can bring a smile to the face of most people, and Idaho Candy Company has been bringing smiles to the faces of Idahoans longer than most.
Since 1901—just 11 years after Idaho became a state—the Boise-based candy company has been turning out traditional favorites like the Idaho Spud Bar for generations. Owner Dave Wagers' family has owned the company since 1984, which has been based out of the same building in the middle of downtown Boise since 1909. He offered an insider's look behind the chocolate curtain of the iconic company.
It sounds like there's a lot of employee longevity here.
There is. We do not have a lot of turnover, which is great for us. Violet Brewer was our longest employee. She worked here from when she was 13--so she started in 1913--and retired when she was 95, so she worked here 82 years.
Are there any original recipes still being used?
We have a lot of products that we've done for a long time. Our best-selling product is the Idaho Spud Bar, and it's also one of our oldest, too. The earliest price list I have is from 1918 and it's on there. ... We also make two other candy bars. One is called the Cherry Cocktail, that's from 1925, the Old Faithful is from about 1926 and then we have Owyhee Butter Toffee, which also showed up around 1925.
How challenging is it to be a small candy company when giant multi-national corporations are the norm?
That's the game we play every day, and it is a struggle. We've got good brands, and we've got loyalty from folks who have been buying our products for generations, literally. Their granddad gave them this candy bar, so I have to get this candy bar and they're introducing it to their kids. It's neat to have that kind of iconic company. And it's also neat to have the history around it.
Would an employee who started here early in the 20th century recognize what's going on here today?
I think they would. We do use some of the same old machines. ... We have machines in use from the '20s, the '30s. ... But we are upgrading the plant though in a lot of ways, and actually this year we're going to do a fair amount of upgrades. In some ways it's to keep up with the new food standards that the government is putting out, but also what the retailers are requiring from their manufacturers. ... It's an interesting opportunity to rehabilitate an old building in downtown Boise.
Have you ever been tempted to move?
Oh, yeah. It's a four-story building and it was originally set up that we do all our chocolate work in the basement where it's cool, and then we can do all our brittles and our marshmallows and hard candies on the upper floors where it gets hotter because we don't have any air conditioning in the plant--which is kind of crazy--so it can get really hot upstairs on the top floors. So you look at that, if we moved into a new warehouse-type building we could have 25-foot ceilings, you could build equipment higher, you wouldn't have to use an elevator to get all your product. We make all our marshmallow Idaho Spud Bars on the top floor, well they have to be elevatored down to the basement to be coated with chocolate and then elevatored up again to where we ship out of our backdoor.
What's your favorite piece of candy that you guys make?
My favorite one we make is probably the one we make the least amount of money on, the Old Faithful candy bar. And it's an involved process to make it, so we don't make a lot when we sell it, but I refuse to get rid of any candy bars that we manufacture for not making money on them. It's a marshmallow with peanuts and chocolate on top of it, and it's a tasty bar.
It would be a tough thing to make candy if you didn't like it.
It would be. That's part of my job. I have to eat it every day.
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