From the time he was 16 years old, firefighting and fire science had been the focus of Dean Martin’s life. He knew no other job, had no other career plans.
After 40 years in this line of work, he had done it all. He had delivered several babies, rescued people from burning homes, taught classes, developed and implemented plans for medical facilities on site in major forest fires and risen to the rank of battalion chief by retirement time. But what does a retired fireman do after years of adrenaline rushes, long shifts and forming a family with the guys at the fire house?
Well, Dean decided on a second career as a fudge maker.
A robust bundle of energy, Martin knew that he had to find a way to stay connected with people besides his wife, kids and grandkids. For years, he had toyed with the idea of going to culinary school to become a chef, and he had made fudge for family gatherings and gifts all along. After doing research into culinary school, he decided to go in a different direction. More research and feedback from family and friends led him to settle on fudge.
He found a small suite in Coos Bay, formerly an office, and modified it to suit him and the Department of Agriculture, which oversees his business. The local Small Business Administration was instrumental in getting things rolling in the right direction for Firehouse Fudge, steering him away from purchasing a greatly overpriced existing fudge business and pointing him toward starting from scratch.
Firehouse Fudge was soon showing up on counters of stores and in shops all around Coos Bay, then found markets outside the coastal area. Eventually, someone suggested that Dean should give the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market a try, and it was a great fit right from the start. Dean and Michelle found a family atmosphere, similar to what he had known at the various fire departments he had worked at.
Vendors and customers alike enjoyed the outgoing personalities of Dean and Michelle and their grandson, still a toddler, was usually with them, providing toothy smiles and chuckles. Dean further endeared himself to the vendors by strolling through the market with samples. After a few months at Umpqua Valley Farmers Market, people began asking him why his product wasn’t being sold in other venues where it was available all week, not just on Saturdays. The owner of a gift shop wanted to carry Firehouse Fudge. A restaurant wanted a display for the counter by the cash register. Every time he did a fair or festival, potential retail customers asked for his product. A long time fudge shop on the coast came to him, asking how he made his fudge so creamy.
Realizing that he was spending too much time on the road between his home in Coos Bay and his booth at the farmers market, plus servicing his accounts, he actually started to consider opening a storefront. Word got out, and a local property owner approached him about renting his building. Laughing, Dean says that from that point on, he just had to get out of the way and let things happen.
The permitting process went smoothly, friends and family stepped up to paint, clean and lift display cases into place. Firehouse Fudge officially opened on June 16, 2018, which turned out to be World Fudge Day. Dean pulled their travel trailer to an RV park near Winston and stays there Tuesday through Saturday.
Dean and Michelle are the kind of people who have never met strangers, just new friends they haven’t known for long. Although Dean admits that he doesn’t remember the names of his regular customers, he does know them by sight and by what they like best out of his overwhelming variety of flavors. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, sugar free … he’s got it all.
When asked how he develops new flavors, he just laughs. “They just happen! Cinnamon Toast was one of those quirky flavors that I couldn’t get out of my mind after making some for my grandson. A little bit of experimenting in the workroom and I had something I thought was pretty good. I made a batch and hoped somebody would like it. Bam! It was gone in a flash!”
Sometimes a customer will give him an idea for a new flavor, based on a childhood memory or on some fudge they tasted while traveling. Dean does several seasonal flavors, such as those with fresh cranberries from Bandon in the fall and holiday season. Fruit flavors, such as local blackberry, find their way into the summer rotation.
It takes very little equipment to make fudge. A mixer specifically for making candy sits on the counter, ready to go. The recipe, of course, is proprietary and the sight and smell of that fudge coming together is enough to make a chocolate lover swoon!
The large batch is divided into 6 pound portions, which are then treated to added flavoring or any number of add ins, such as nuts, marshmallows, peanut butter, cookies, fruit, caramel, and the list goes on. These batches are poured into lined 13-by-9 cake pans with snap on lids, then allowed to set up before being cut for sale. Having the fudge in he pans with lids makes for easy stacking on market and festival days.
At the farmers market, quarter-pound pieces are available, bagged or boxed, and Dean usually has some sort of special to tempt you. He usually has in the neighborhood of 40 flavors available, so if you can’t find something you like, you just need help.
Now, for some of the flavors, and I admit to being partial to several. I’m a dark chocolate kinda gal, so my go-to flavor is Dark Chocolate Walnut, It is difficult to stand in front of the display cases without saying, “I want some of this, and some of that one, and oh, my gosh, a hunk of that over there!”Raspberry Swirl always gets my attention, as does Chocolate Caramel Walnut, Rocky Road and strangely enough, Root Beer Float.
Watching Dean waiting on customers is a treat, as he enjoys not only talking to the people as he serves them, he enjoys their delight as they browse the flavors. Cookies and Cream, Red Velvet, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cappuccino, Orange Chocolate… the selection gives the phrase “death by chocolate” new meaning!
In addition to fudge, Dean also serves Umpqua ice cream in a wide variety of flavors, and if you’re hankering for an old fashioned ice cream sundae or a banana split, you can get your fix, along with shakes and malts and even fudge shakes. If coffee is your thing, step up to the bar and partake of all the fancy coffee incarnations.
Besides family and fudge, another of Dean’s passions is helping with fundraising. If your group wants to sell Firehouse Fudge as a fundraising project, contact Dean in person or on his website (firehousefudge.com) to set up the details. The fudge is presold, and 50 percent of the sale price goes to the fundraiser. You don’t find a deal like that very often, and how hard can it be to sell fudge?! Dean also welcomes small group gatherings at the shop and frequently has live music.
Although Valentines Day has come and gone, don’t let that stop you from surprising somebody you love with a cute little package of fudge, or you could even surprise yourself.
Find Dean at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market at the Methodist Church on Harvard, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and at the Firehouse Fudge shop at 316 NW Garden Valley Blvd., Roseburg. Phone: 541-414-6468.