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Alex Norman/MEDILL

Cupid Candies, a candy store and Factory in Illinois produces layered mint chocolates - a different recipe than the original.

Frango and cash: Did Frango manufacturing really come back to Chicago?

by Alex Norman
March 11, 2014


Alex Norman/MEDILL

Frango mint production takes place on the 7th floor of Macy's State Street store.

The 7th-floor viewing kitchen of the Macy’s store on State Street offers a glimpse into a lost time in Chicago history. Behind a glass pane workers in white lab coats are churning out a batch of Chicago’s signature candy: Frango mints.

The production is strictly ceremonial. Frango production, which once occurred on the 13th floor of Marshall Field’s flagship Chicago store, was shut down in 1999 and outsourced to a candy maker in Pennsylvania. The move offended thousands of Chicagoans including Mayor Richard Daley who publicly criticized company executives for thwarting his vision of Chicago as the “Candy Capital of the World.”

But seven years passed and the controversy died down. Then Macy’s Inc. purchased Marshall Field’s, which had become of May Department Stores Inc., and announced it was changing Field’s name to Macy’s. To partially cushion the blow, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren promised he would explore bringing Frango manufacturing back to Chicago.

A year later the company announced that Cupid Candies, a modest one-story candy store in Oak Lawn, would produce one-pound boxes of Frangos to be sold in the Midwest.

So did Lundgren deliver on his promise?

Macy’s says yes. "As promised Macy's brought a portion of production to Chicago," says Macy’s spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz.

But the answer isn’t cut and dried. Cupid Candies does produce Frangos but it makes Frango Layered Mints, a totally different recipe from the original milk chocolate mints the candy’s legacy is built on.

“Originally we made the Frango mints for the Chicago land area but that went back to Philadelphia, ” said John Stefanos, the president of Cupid Candies. He added that the decision was not based on a poor reception for Cupid’s product. “The response was very good…We made it the exact formulation that it was before.”

Stefanos said the switch to layered mints was a mutual business decision that was best for both parties.

But some Chicagoans feel Macy’s hasn’t fully followed through on its promise to bring Frango production back to the city.

"I felt Chicago was losing a landmark," said Ed Langefeld, 62, who said he was bothered by the loss of the downtown kitchen.

Before the move to Pennsylvania, Frango mints had been made in Chicago since 1929. But in an effort to save money and ramp up production, Federated Department Stores Inc., which changed its name to Macy’s Inc. in 2005, decided to move operations out of Chicago. “The facilities at Macy's on State Street's 13th floor could not keep up with production,” said Macy’s Schwartz.

Chicagoans fumed that the chocolate would lose its trademark taste despite the fact the recipe wasn’t supposed to be touched. That fracas has faded as well and boxes of Frangos in a wide variety of flavors are still big sellers at Macy’s stores in the Chicago area. But the viewing kitchen serves as a reminder to some that while the chocolate mints are made domestically, they haven’t completely returned home yet.