William Widman’s great-great-grandchildren do not know whether he was born in America or immigrated to here from Germany. Either way the candyman learned his craft out east before setting up shop in Saint Paul during the mid-19th century. There he created the Seven Up, a once eminent chocolate bar with seven chambers for seven different fillings such as cherry cream, butterscotch fudge, and orange jelly.
Widman, who insisted on making all of his candies by hand, recognized the logistical nightmare presented by the Seven Up and sold his idea to Pearson’s (of later Salted Nut Roll fame). He next moved to Dubuque to set up shop again in 1885. There he provided inestimable comfort on the frontier in the form of delicious chocolates, and in having a son named George ensured the Widman name would stand for fine candy for generations.
George Widman and wife Clara founded Widman’s Candy in Crookston, Minnesota in 1911. The town’s booming railroad economy brought with it an equal demand for chocolate. George Widman Jr. and wife Betty established their own Widman’s Candy in Grand Forks in 1949. And finally, in 1990, Carol Widman Kennedy and husband David brought their century-old family tradition to Fargo.
Carol’s brothers Daniel and George III each have their own shops named Widman’s Candy. In effect Widman’s is not a family business – it is a dynasty business.
“Growing up in a candy family, you don’t really realize everything that you’re learning,” said Carol. “It just melts into you. I started working in my father’s shop when I was ten years old, assembling candy boxes for a nickel apiece. I always appreciated our work – especially the time a blizzard left my dad with a three pound box of candy he couldn’t deliver. That was a good weekend.”
Carol and her team make candy the same way Widmans always have. Sugar, cocoa butter and other heroic ingredients are worked into chocolate by hand, which is then rested to cool on marble. A great copper kettle might bubble with any kind of caramel: regular caramel, caramel for turtles, caramel for candy apples, and another intriguingly named “super caramel.”
“Our candy apples are different,” said Carol. “They don’t stick to your teeth … unless it’s humid out.
“We make over 200 kinds of candy in our shop, but Chippers are certainly our claim to fame. We take fresh Red River Valley potato chips, dip them by hand into carefully tempered dark or milk chocolate, and then ship them all over the country. The salt and the chocolate together make a great combination. If you thought potato chips were addictive enough on their own, wait until you try Chippers!”
Look around Carol Widman’s Candy Co. and you’ll feel like a kid in some kind of store or another. Creams, truffles, and peanut butter meltaways glow in glass cases like precious gems. There are freshly made turtles, clusters of salted pecans ensconced in caramel and chocolate. Sunflower seeds are sheeted in chocolate or almond bark. Carol says her nut roll is to die for, but it is far more pleasant simply to go to her shop for one.
Widmans are still inventing new bonbons. Inspired by a bout of late-night hunger, Carol dipped layered fudge and super caramel into chocolate, thus creating the “Zummy.” Carol’s husband David once saw potential in a melted Easter treat, which he perfected as the modestly named Dave’s North Dakota Cow Pie. It being Widman’s, the cow pie soon evolved to include potato chips, becoming the “Uff-da” in the process.
“We can’t do volume like the factories can,” said Carol. “But they will never match our quality. Everything in our shop is made by hand – that’s how you stay in business for four generations. And all Widmans work until we’re very old.”
You can visit Carol Widman’s Candy Co. at 4325 13th Ave S in Fargo. They are right next to a Planet Fitness, and have surely undone much of the progress meant to have been made there. You may also order their chocolates and other fine candies online at carolwidmanscandy.com.
By David Scheller