Holiday time is filled with all sorts of sweets but what makes Naperville’s Old Fashioned English Toffee extra special is not only its unique taste and texture, but the local history behind it.
Local distributor Mary Lou Wehrli describes the treat, “It’s a nice, soft, buttery toffee, its not break your teeth, gets stuck it just melts in your mouth.”
It’s been said that Prince Castle and Cock Robin ice cream store founder Walter Fredenhagen had a sweet tooth and a flare for making candy, and this led to a delicious opportunity.
His son, Ted Fredenhagen remembers, “Father had this great idea that we should make presents for our friends, the local policemen and firemen. So he had this wonderful formula that he got from his uncle, and so the ice cream crew went to work and started to make the candy.”
That candy production helped boost sales at the ice cream store during the winter and kept store employees busy. Starting in 1935 and continuing at Christmas time each year, Naperville residents would line up for toffee. In 1998, Walter’s great grandson Jerad Zellhofer took over operations.
“I tried to eliminate waste and bring in newer pieces of equipment,” said Jerad Zellhofer, President of Z-Best Enterprises and great grandson of Walter Fredenhagen. “I didn’t want to get so automated that my toffee tasted like every other company that’s out there. Tastes big commercial [toffee], in my opinion, some of it’s bland. I wanted to retain that best I could, but still bring it in the modern ages.”
After about a decade, Zellhofer has more than doubled the business and he still uses the secret family recipe. “That’s the main reason I didn’t want to change the [recipe] was because of the tradition and of course, the quality and the taste; people remember that taste. You know, whether the box is brown or maroon, once they bite that, it brings back a lot of memories for people.”
Today, Naperville Old Fashioned English Toffee can be purchased at select stores in Naperville, such as Whole Foods, Naper Nuts and Sweets, Zeppe’s Italian Market and Casey’s Foods.
“It’s a Naperville connection you know we love stuff like that and anything we can do to support some of that nostalgic feel for the town and the holiday traditions, we’ll do it,” said Dan Casey, Owner of Casey’s Foods. People will come in and light up when they see it. Now, most people are on a mission. They call first and then they’re coming in to get it. They’re saying, ‘you got that,” and they come and get it. Someone came in and bought six or eight boxes of it the other day.”
Mary Lou Wehrli believes people come back because it brings back memories of their childhood and their youth, and growing up, and remembering a family tradition.
Jerad Zellhofer says it was fate and he takes a lot of pride in family, the family name and what they have achieved.