Sanders – Detroit Historical Society

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Detroit confectionary Sanders draws its roots to 1875 when Frederick Sanders Schmidt relocated from Chicago to Detroit after his original soda fountain and candy store was destroyed by Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871. He had already eliminated Schmidt from his name, to avoid confusion with his father who had a bakery in Illinois, when he opened a candy store on Woodward and Gratiot Avenues on June 17, 1875. As business grew, he introduced ice cream, sodas and baked goods.

Although it is likely the ice cream soda was not invented in Detroit, Fred Sanders can at least claim to have introduced it to Detroiters. In 1876, while making a cream soda, Sanders discovered his cream had gone sour, so substituted ice cream. The ice cream soda was an instant hit. His success led him to open the “Pavilion of Sweets” on the corner of Michigan and Woodward Avenues in 1891. Its red and white striped awning and Moorish-styled cupola are a recognizable icon in historic photos of Detroit. After a brief time in another Woodward location, the company, now the “Palace of Sweets,” moved to a former J.L. Hudson store on Woodward north of John R Street in 1896. That store, with its contemporary façade, added after a fire in 1956, stayed open until the 1980s.

The Sanders store was unique for a variety of reasons, including the professionalism of its staff. At one time the Woodward store was open on Sundays, but Sanders closed the shop after patrons were offended by a business open on the Sabbath. The company is recognized as the first to have a carryout service, and to use dry ice to keep food cold. Another first was lowering the stools and counters to table height, a practice that became standard.

Sanders quickly became Detroit’s leading candy provider. Business expanded to a chain of candy stores, including some inside shopping centers. Sanders products were also sold at 200 local grocers. The products later became available at national grocery stores, many of which were even outfitted with special Sanders baking stations.

In 1913 Sanders added baked goods to its repertoire and is famed today for its “bumpy cake,” a chocolate cake with ridges of butter cream on top under a cover of chocolate ganache. Perhaps even more famous is their hot fudge, now sold in several variations. In 1975, Jack Sanders, the great-grandson of the founder, celebrated the company’s centennial and invited Detroit’s mayor and other city officials and celebrities to step behind his counter to craft their own sundae favorites. Part of the festivities was a replica of his family’s 1890s horse-drawn wagon, which perambulated Detroit’s streets throughout the centennial events.

After several owners, and with business declining in the 70s and 80s, the company closed its central downtown location and its Highland Park headquarters. Country Home Bakers bought the company in 1988, and in 2002, the rights to the Sanders name and products were purchased by the Morley Candy Company. Morley honors recipes perfected by the Sanders family and attests that their products embody the legendary “just good as you remember” taste. Sanders products are still sold at grocery stores and at Sanders Chocolate & Ice Cream Shoppes across metro Detroit and Mackinac Island today.

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