The Chocolate Cult: Meet the Fudge Doctor from Baltimore

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Meet the Fudge Doctor from Baltimore

In honor of National Peanut Butter Fudge Day (today!) we're publishing an interview with the "Fudge Doctor" from Baltimore, Seth Weinstein.  Sisters and Brothers, please read and leave him some comments or questions afterwards.

Seth Weinstein in Kilwins

Seth, would you tell us about Kilwins and your role in it?

Kilwins is a Michigan-based ice cream and candy company that's been in operation since 1947. We focus on old-fashioned standbys: fudge, toffee, brittles, caramel apples, and other traditional American candies. Trends come and go, but dipping an apple in caramel has been a candy staple for decades, and we see no reason to mess with a good thing!

Which particular Kilwins shop is yours?

I work at our Fells Point location in Baltimore, MD. You can find us at 1625 Thames St.

Is the ice cream and chocolate business in Baltimore good?  Is there a lot of competition and if so what makes your shop unique?

If your town has deep American history and it's located on the water, chances are you're gonna find a handful of candy and ice cream stores. Baltimore is no exception, but we're lucky enough that we don't have a ton of direct competition. The other candy stores are located far enough away from us, and have a different enough selection, that we don't see a lot of overlap. On the ice cream front, our only competition comes from a gelato place, which really isn't ice cream, and a certain other franchise location of questionable quality that shall go unnamed.

How did you get into the chocolate and ice cream shop business?

Probably because candy is the greatest! The very first job I ever loved was at a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and it was there that I cut my teeth on making caramel apples and fudge and tempering chocolate at the delicate age of 15. I worked there until I was 18, and then served as an assistant manager at Giffords Candy & Ice Cream while I was in college. I've dipped my toes into other industries, but candy keeps pulling me back, and I'm more than happy to let it.

Mud Fudge
You have a nickname, "The Fudge Doctor," would you tell us how you got that name?

Because my fudge is sick! Honestly, I completely forget the specifics of how I ended up with that nickname. I suppose it doesn't hurt that I've done a bunch of research into the delicate system that is fudge, so my coworkers will occasionally catch me "diagnosing" a less-than-perfect batch.

We've interviewed people in several roles of the chocolate industry but I believe you are our first franchise owner.  How much of what you sell in your shop is based on Kilwins recipes and directives and how much is created in house or unique to your shop?

Whoa now, I'm just the chef! My store is owned by David and Karen Gilmore, and managed by Eric Gonzalez, and all three of them are wonderful people, hard workers, and extremely dedicated to the business. No way I could do this without them. To answer your other question, I'd say the ratio is about 70/30. The Kilwins franchise has had years to explore and perfect recipes, and they've come up with a multitude of solid ones. I'll find myself designing my own products, however, if we have a Kilwins item that isn't selling as well as we'd like, or we have a holiday coming up that demands a seasonal touch to our products, or there's a particularly delicious idea that we have to explore. Something that I deeply appreciate about my employers is the freedom they give me in the kitchen. As long as I keep the shelves stocked and the snacking to a minimum, they pretty much let me run wild as far as custom creations are concerned. Plus, customers will often come in with unique custom orders, which I'm more than happy to fill.

Kilwins Pralines
What is your favorite treat to create?  Is it fudge?

Oh wow, that's a difficult question. Fudge is great because I work in front of huge windows overlooking the sidewalk, and I'll often find that a crowd gathers to watch me paddle the fudge on our marble table. But I think my absolute favorite item to produce is pecan pralines. They might actually be the perfect candy. They're simply the best, whether you're talking about the taste, the ease of production, the time required, or complexity of the ingredients. Pralines are so great they almost feel like cheating. How can a candy this good be this effortless?!

Are there seasonal ups and downs in your business?

Oh sure, and they're about what you would expect. Summers are huge, as is Christmas and Valentines' Day, but we definitely do experience a lull after New Years'. We serve all manner of hot drinks in addition to our ice cream and candy, but I suppose people don't consider those as much. Summers more than make up for it though; this is only our second summer, but we've completely blown away our numbers from last year.

What is your favorite product that you sell?

My mind immediately went to our Peanut Butter Pretzel Clusters. We mix together pretzel pieces and peanut butter, shape them into balls, freeze them, and enrobe them in milk chocolate with dark chocolate decoration on top. We came up with the idea when we were trying to find a use for all the broken pretzels we can't enrobe in chocolate, and this item has been an extraordinarily elegant solution. They're a bit labor-intensive, but the end product is immeasurably decadent. The fact that we cut down on ingredient waste is a plus.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about your work at Kilwins?

I know I work in front of a big glass window, but please don't tap on it to get my attention! I'm not much smarter than a fish, and it startles me.

Thank you, Seth, for talking with us today.

You're very welcome! Thanks for featuring me!

Sisters and Brothers, please do leave comments and questions for Seth to let him know that you read our interview today. In honor of "National Peanut Butter Fudge Day", go out and find some or make some.


Cerise said...

"Fudge Doctor" is a great job title. Of course so is "Chocolate Priestess."

The Chocolate Priestess said...

Hehehe, yeah Sean should definitely put that title on his business cards.

elizabeth said...

Great interview! How unusual to work in front of a glass window. It must be like being a performer as well as a chef.

The Chocolate Priestess said...

I thought that, too, elizabeth.

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