Sweet comeback

Dec 21, 2005 at 12:00 am

Scratch a Detroiter over 40 and you’ll find a Sanders lover, and a Sanders story.

Reggie McNulty, 82, remembers “looking out the window as my mother was getting off the streetcar, to see if she was carrying a Sanders box.” Rita Boylan, born and raised in Highland Park, would visit the Sanders soda fountain near Hudson’s every day when she worked downtown in 1941; besides hot fudge sundaes, “they also made a great chicken salad sandwich.”

Rita’s daughter Barb could walk to the Royal Oak Sanders as a child, and went there to eat a hot fudge cream puff and watch the teenagers hang out. Lifelong East Sider George Corsetti worked at a supermarket across the street from a Sanders when he was 15; the highlight of his week was payday, when he’d cross the street for a hot fudge sundae.

The company, founded in 1875 by Fred Sanders (inexplicably, the older you are, the more likely you are to pronounce it “Saunders”), once operated 58 soda fountain/candy stores in the metro area in the days when people strolled, in their downtowns.

After a hiatus, the Sanders name is slowly being revived. The new owners, Morley Candy Makers of Clinton Township, are hoping that today’s grandparents and parents bring the kids and start the family tradition anew.

Which is exactly what’s happening at the new Grosse Pointe Park fountain, a few doors down from an original Sanders location (now occupied by Caribou Coffee). Dowagers are buying scoops of Superman for their grandsons as they treat themselves to a slice of bumpy cake. Harper Woods resident Dave Stuart, who used to bike to the Grosse Pointe Sanders, said he’d walked by the new one, “but I couldn’t go in because I didn’t have my daughter Mary with me.”

The original Sanders went bankrupt in the 1990s, according to the new owners, because it tried to do too many things. “That’s not a business model that works today,” Urbano says, as he explains to a customer for the 101st time why the new store sells only ice cream treats and candy, no soup or sandwiches. “There’s a delicate balance between taking care of your customers and doing what’s right and doing what’s best for the business,” says Casey Patz, Morley’s Candy Shops operations manager. “They lost track of that.”

So the new Sanders outsources ice cream production to Stroh’s, cream puff production to Melody Farms, and cake production to Awrey’s. Morley makes the candy and the toppings, including the celebrated hot fudge.

The new business model is stripped down, but to the basics that are most important to the most people. The store’s most requested items are the hot fudge cream puff and bumpy cake — dark devil’s food topped with two cylindrical “bumps” of buttercream and iced with chocolate. The best way to eat this in-store is in “Bumpity Bliss” — cake, ice cream and both chocolate and caramel syrups.

You’ll find modern flavors that Reggie and Rita wouldn’t have dreamed of — Moose Tracks, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cookies and Cream — in addition to vanilla (the biggest seller), chocolate, strawberry, butter pecan, Mackinac Island Fudge, mint chip, black cherry, Bumpy Cake ’n’ Cream and Superman. All can be made into sundaes, shakes, sodas, malts or Detroit Coolers (a Vernors ginger ale float).

Sanders ice cream isn’t as rich as the super premiums. Those brands may contain 15 percent to 22 percent butterfat; Sanders is 13 percent to 14 percent. It’s less dense than Coldstone or Ben & Jerry’s, while still quite satisfying. Everything is way sweet; expect no sophisticated flavors. I liked Caramel Apple Slice, which puts butterscotch and apple-flavored sauce over ice cream; and the bittersweet chocolate topping, which isn’t really bittersweet but is edgier than milk chocolate.

It would be too much to hope that the new store would look like and feel like a traditional soda fountain, with a marble counter and tall fluted glasses for the sodas. The counter is granite, with 10 stools, and you’ll have to slurp from a plastic spoon and a paper cup; lots of plastic is thrown away. The grandkids don’t know any different, but “Saunders”-lovers do.

The next soda fountain will probably be in Rochester (a converted Morley candy store), and if nostalgia pays, more will appear in the burbs in years to come.

To read some Sanders history, or to order, go to sanders-hotfudge.com. Some flavors are available by the half gallon to take home from the store, but it’s more fun to sit at the counter and twirl on the stools.

Through December, the Grosse Pointe store will be open 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, till 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and noon-6 p.m. on Sundays.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].