During the Labor Day Mackinaw Bridge walk, traffic control workers speak of “herding fudgies,” an endearing term for those straits-invader touristy types.
No surprise. Not much says Michigan like Mackinac Island, and not much says Mackinac Island like fudge. (Except, perhaps, The Grand Hotel. Or maybe that horse-drawn carriage smell.)
Like any good food story, the island’s iconic fudge has a bragging-rights battle (think Lafayette vs. American or Buddy’s vs. Loui’s).
Mackinac Island has myriad fudge purveyors. But with their name alone, The Original Murdick’s Fudge stakes a claim. And it gets better. There are rivals like Ryba’s and Joann’s, but a branch of the Murdick family also makes fudge. (They all agree is that fudgemaking is a delicious business.)
According to legend (and a brochure from The Original Murdick’s), it all got started when a sail-making father-and-son team were hired to create The Grand Hotel’s canvass awnings. The “Mrs.” (Sara) opened Murdick’s Candy Kitchen in 1887, teaching son Jerome (aka “Rome”) about fudge. It wasn’t all sweet success. Glitches included sugar rationing during the war, competitors opening shop, and the Great Depression. But Murdick’s survived.
Here’s where the “who was first” question gets stickier than a bag of saltwater taffy. In 1940, Rome’s son, Gould, sold the business to Kansas native Harold May, who came to the island in the ’30s to work for Murdick’s. May’s still exists. Apparently Gould signed a 10-year, no-compete clause. Then his half-brother Jerome and wife Grace opened a luncheonette, started selling fudge, and revived the Murdick’s Candy Kitchen name.
In 1955, Bob Benser Sr. opened an ice cream shop next door. When Jerome fell ill, Benser helped Grace run the store. He bought the business in 1969.
Now that we have a clear as fudge backstory, here’s something to chew on. The Bensers also own another iconic island hot spot called The Pink Pony bar in the Chippewa Hotel. But that’s a drink of a different color.
Special thanks: The Original Murdick’s Fudge, 7363 Main St., Mackinac Island; 906-847-3530.
Part of our 2016 Food Issue series on iconic Michigan dishes.