Many know him simply as the ‘candy man on the radio,’ but Joe Bogle, founder of the Original Fudge Kitchen alongside his brother Paul Bogle, has worked his entire life and has taken great risks to bring fudge and candy to generations of Cape visitors.
Bogle had been hands-on with the Fudge Kitchen nearly every day of the past fifty years. He said that Spring 2020 was the first season where he wasn’t “at the Washington Mall playing around with the Easter bunny,” a tradition that locals have come to see as a staple. Joe said that he seldom takes a day off; if he expects his employees to work, he’ll be there too.
But Joe is older, and hopes to retire from a business that, despite the joy it has brought him, has consumed much of his life. As Joe winds down, he reflects on fifty years of fudge, and the people, friends, failures, and successes that got him there.
He remembered a faraway time when owning a candy store was not on his mind at all. He and his brother Paul worked a job at Segal’s Candy by what was then the Beach Theater in Cape May; the brother’s plan was to get out as soon as they could afford college tuition. They did go to college, but candy called them back to the Cape. As Mr. Segal made plans to retire and to close his candy store, his parting wisdom to the two brothers was that they ‘stay in the candy business.’
“So, being young and foolish, I went over to North Wildwood where I found a store that was empty, and I opened what at the time was just called “Fudge Kitchen.” Those first years were not easy, he stressed. For starters, getting a loan at the age of 17 was exceedingly difficult. And once the store was finally established, another fudge store also called the “fudge kitchen” moved in just blocks away.
“That competition was actually a blessing in disguise,” Joe said. “We changed our name to ‘The Original’ Fudge Kitchen, and that tricked people into thinking we had history. But we were just kids! I did it because I had to. We wouldn’t have stayed in business otherwise.” The success of that first location, which launched without air conditioning or even a front door, spurred the brothers to eventually open five other locations across the county.
The brothers purchased candy stores as they went out of business and converted them into Fudge Kitchens. To an outsider, it might seem like Joe and Paul had a careful plan for expansion. “But I was still so young; I had no plan!” said Joe, who emphasized that the Fudge Kitchen is the product of grueling work. “Between 1972 and 2021, my brother and I missed many weddings and funerals.”
He also said that, despite fifty years of business, they never once compromised on the fudge’s quality: “We never made a batch of fudge in 50 years a way other than how we started. We are one of the only fudge shops, maybe in the whole world, to do that.”
This process, which remains unchanged, starts with cooking sugar and other ingredients “in a steam kettle jacket, which are then cooled off for an hour and a half,” Joe explained. “Then, we hand-whip it with a wooden paddle. We make 55 to 60 batches a day per store in the summertime.”
Joe said that the pandemic brought with it some of the most difficult years the Fudge Kitchen has ever weathered.
They often rely on foreign workers for help, but those workers did not come in their usual numbers over the past two summers. He remembered the Kitchen’s first Irish employee, Granie Lennon, who came from Northern Ireland in 1986. Great help from people like Granie have made 50 years of the Fudge Kitchen possible, he said. Joe’s mother, Catherine Bogle, was the first ever helper to pass out free samples to the public.
As Joe reflected on 50 years of history, he sighed, and said that it is finally time for him to move on. When he and his brother started the Fudge Kitchen, they could never imagine the 50-year saga that they now look back on. Joe and Paul have now taken a backseat in the business, but Joe stressed that the operations, recipes, and hand-made fudge-making process will remain intact under new ownership.
After 50 years of grueling work, he hands the reins to Karen Thompson, and the Thompson family, who is a business owner in Cape May and a personal friend of the Bogles. Karen said that “the Bogles believed that ‘pride was the main ingredient,’ and she intends to hold the Fudge Kitchen to the same standard going forward.
“She’s an innovator,” Joe said. He stressed that the Kitchen’s success was in large part due to the Kitchen’s willingness to always try new things; there was a time where Easter Chocolates were considered a risk at the Fudge Kitchen. Karen will continue this legacy of innovation and fresh fudge through the next fifty years as new visitors come to one of the county’s oldest candy shops.