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Sanders Confectionery is a company formed in Detroit in 1875, best known to those in the midwestern United States for its assortment of ice cream, toppings, bumpy cakes and candies. The Sanders brand is currently owned by the Morley Candy Company.
The company was founded by German-born Frederick Sanders Schmidt on June 17, 1875, when he opened a candy store on Woodward Avenue at Gratiot in downtown Detroit. Schmidt, who went by his middle name, had originally opened his first shop in Chicago but relocated to Detroit after his Chicago store was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. Ice cream was soon added to the menu, then baked goods and sweet cream sodas. One popular story asserts that on a hot summer day, the store was packed with thirsty customers, and Sanders noticed that the sweet cream used for the sodas had gone sour. So he quickly substituted ice cream, and it became the talk of the town. Sanders is among those who claim to have invented the ice cream soda. Business became so brisk that the store expanded and Sanders hired more employees.
In 1891, Sanders renamed his expanded store on Woodward Avenue the "Pavilion of Sweets", with an unusual mosque-style cupola and red and white awnings. Sanders eventually moved his downtown location to the west side of Woodward, across from what later became Kern's department store. Before long, the company had cornered the candy market in the Motor City. The company started a chain of stand-alone neighborhood candy stores, some featuring counters that also served light lunches and soda fountain drinks. The chain also expanded into shopping centers and by the 1960s, there were 58 Sanders outlets in metro Detroit. Sanders products were also sold in about two hundred supermarkets and groceries throughout the midwest.
The company began to decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the company closed its flagship downtown store. The company had gone through several different owners and had at one point gone bankrupt. Sanders closed most of its lunch counters and its headquarters in Highland Park. The company restructured itself by selling its products directly to grocery stores. The company was purchased in 2002 by the Morley Candy Company, another Michigan-based confectionery firm, and under the new ownership, the Sanders retail outlets began making a comeback in the Detroit area. In the spring of 2007, Sanders retail outlets were in Livonia, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe and Wyandotte. The company also opened an outlet at the Palace of Auburn Hills. In 2009, the company reported plans to expand to over a dozen locations.
Sanders had been one of the first businesses in Detroit to be open on Sunday. Although business would be good, Fred Sanders would eventually bow to pressure and close on Sundays.
While the ice cream soda was the first signature menu item, Sanders would also become known for its hot fudge sundaes, complete with a hot fudge recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Other popular menu items included the hot fudge cream puff and the "bumpy cake", which consisted of a chocolate frosting covering "bumps" of white buttercream.
To commemorate the centennial of the company in 1975, Jack Sanders, great-grandson of the founder, invited then-Detroit mayor Coleman Young, the Detroit city council, and other Detroit celebrities to create their favorite ice cream desserts. Sanders also recreated an 1890's horse-drawn wagon that crisscrossed the Detroit area to celebrate the centennial.
The Detroit Historical Society honored Sanders that same year for innovations that included the first carry-out service, the low stools and counters, and the use of dry ice to keep ice cream cold.
Since the 1990s the Stroh's Ice Cream brand has carried a line of "Sanders Parlor Classics" flavors inspired by the Sanders stores.