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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on January 3rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 43

Spotlight on: Danish Food Farm Inc. Fudge Kitchen

BY FRANK GONZALES

Squidgy, ooey-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, covered in a crispy, hardened exterior. That’s fudge for you, and it’s the main attraction at the Old Danish Fudge Kitchen in Solvang. General Manager Don Heiduk now has fudge running through his veins, but it wasn’t always so. Besides his having worked in a pizza place in his high school days, Heiduk’s relationship to food was limited to being a consumer. Then, as it often does, chance called.


Focus:
Don Heiduk never fudges the details when he makes his fudge. The large crowds that flocked to his store over the holidays know this well.
PHOTO BY FRANK GONZALES

“The opportunity came about because my father-in-law owns the building, and the person who ran [the fudge business] for 35 or so years wanted to get out of his lease and they worked out that my father-in-law would take over the business,” he said.

Soon after, Heiduk’s father-in-law offered his family the opportunity to take over the business, and Heiduk answered the call.

That was 14 years ago, and while the Fudge Kitchen runs smoothly under Heiduk’s watchful eye, having to hit the ground running in a long-established business took guts.

“I have worked retail before, so I had an idea [about running the business], but I think anytime you take over a place and you want to put your own stamp on it, it’s a little difficult getting the people in that you like, doing things the way you like—I would say the thing that maybe took the longest was learning how to actually make the product,” Heiduk said.

What it boiled down to (pun intended) was taking risks and learning from failures.

“Like everything, sometimes it takes one to jump in themselves and really make some mistakes on their own,” Heiduk admitted, “so I learned the basics, but then really it was me kind of learning some of it on my own.”

Despite having a decade and a half of experience now, Heiduk still focuses on the details, like boiling, stirring, shaping, and drying the fudge each day. The determination to perfect every last aspect of the business was apparent when Heiduk was asked about expanding. He said, “On a daily basis I consider new products, I consider new locations. The potential is always there. My personality type—fortunately or unfortunately—is I’m very hands-on. I have a hard time letting go, including production of the fudge.”

While some among us might be surprised at such a response, the resistance to letting go has kept the Fudge Kitchen from rapid overexpansion. And Heiduk has expanded in clever ways. Following the example set when the original shop combined its pretzel- and fudge-making into one business, Heiduk incorporated a next-door ice cream shop after its owner decided to stop running it. Along with mail-order fudge, Heiduk said the Fudge Kitchen’s website had been updated this year to increase his online sales.

“Definitely the potential is unlimited online,” he noted.

Even with the right business attitude and careful growth, a fudge business can be risky business. Unlike more boring kinds of food, the Fudge Kitchen’s confections require customers to be in the mood to indulge—which isn’t all the time.

“[My business] definitely is a seasonal business,” Heiduk said. “I always say our business follows the school calendar. When the kids are out and families are traveling, we are definitely the busiest. In between Christmas and New Year’s, a lot of people are on the road and a lot of people are traveling.”

Summer and the holidays are boom time for the Fudge Kitchen and for Solvang.

“I think [Solvang] is a prototypical tourist town that people come [to] and they want to treat themselves,” Heiduk said of his store’s location.

Nevertheless, in any confectionary business it’s the quality of the product that matters most. In addition to its star, the Fudge Kitchen also sells caramel apples, peanut brittle, and the aforementioned pretzels and ice cream.

As for the main attraction, many flavors are available, from Oreo and peanut butter to traditional chocolate. No matter what the choice, be prepared for sensory overload as the rich texture contrasts with the hard outer shell and the gooey insides mingle with the flavor of heavy cream and the expected sweetness explosion. Consider the Fudge Kitchen’s fudge to be the weapon of mass elation in the confectioner’s arsenal. And to top it all off, the friendly staff of high school and junior college kids makes for a very welcoming environment.

Heiduk said his favorite part of the business is the people, following that phrase by engaging in friendly banter with some customers.

“It’s really enjoyable to meet people, to interact with people, to learn about people, and you know really it’s a business that you make people happy, [and the people] in turn make the person who’s making somebody happy happy,” he said.

For more information on the Danish Food Farm Fudge Kitchen—441 Alisal Road, Unit A in Solvang—call 688-9932 or go to solvangfudge.com.

Biz Spotlight was written by Intern Frank Gonzales. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, e-mail, or mail.