When Mike and Linda Staheli saw the notice that a chocolate company in Salt Lake City was going on the market, they decided to investigate.

When they found out the name of the company was Fernwood, they immediately made their offer.

How often does a bona fide made-in-Utah Christmas tradition come up for sale?

* * *

It turned out that there were already a couple of interested buyers ahead of them, but the Stahelis jumped to the front of the line after sitting down with owner Dick Wood and regaling him with stories from their youth — resurrecting fond Christmastime memories of consuming prodigious amounts of Fernwood’s signature chocolate mint sandwiches back when they were farm kids growing up in Enterprise, Utah.

Mike remembered how on Christmas morning he could easily polish off an entire 8-ounce sleeve of the little mint sandwiches in one sitting, and then search for more. 

“I think Dick chose us (to sell to) because he could see he was leaving his life’s work in good hands; that we were committed to keeping the legacy going,” says Mike. 

This all took place seven years ago, in the summer of 2016, when Dick was about to turn 90 and ready to see how many rounds of golf he could play in the time he had left (quite a few as it turned out; he passed away just a year ago at the age of 95).

After the purchase, Mike and Linda moved Fernwood’s headquarters to Logan, where they also run several other companies. They’ve found that Fernwood Candy does well throughout the year, but when the holidays approach the business reaches, as the sports teams like to say, the next level.

“Seventy percent of our business is done in the fourth quarter, from October through December,” says Dick.

Much of that revolves around the Christmas holidays, and much of that around Fernwood’s signature treat.

Although the brand carries a wide assortment of chocolate confections — their pecan logs are a perennial bestseller — it’s the little chocolate mint sandwiches they literally can’t make enough of.

The company has “the good bad problem” of demand exceeding supply.

“We’re maxed out on our production area footprint, so we just can’t produce enough to meet the need,” says Mike, noting that the capacity of their production facility in Logan is 1,000 pounds of chocolate a day.

That may sound like a lot, but this time of year it’s not enough. There’s a particular backlog for online orders.

“It’s frustrating when we can’t give enough product,” says Mike. “Next year we’re looking at possibly doubling our size.”

At that, Fernwood is producing four times more product than when Mike and Linda purchased the company seven years ago — a result of expanding their reach by placing their chocolates and candies in every major grocery chain in Utah, including Costco.

At Costco alone, Mike estimates they’ll sell 3.2 million of the little quarter-ounce square chocolate sandwiches over the holidays. Some will be the new raspberry and orange flavors that Mike and Linda have added to the lineup. But the majority will be the tried-and-true mint variety.

Over the years, the mint sandwiches have become a Utah Christmas tradition quite organically — much more the result of word-of-mouth than any advertising or marketing campaign. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to slip a box of them into Christmas stockings, maybe it’s because you can tell they’re handcrafted, maybe it’s because they’re so tasty.

Certainly Dick Wood’s parents, George and Leah, didn’t have “Christmas tradition” in mind the year they traveled to a confectioners convention on the East Coast in 1959. At the time, the couple had been running their candy and ice cream business for a dozen years (the name Fernwood is a combination of George and Leah’s surname and Fern Street, their first address as newlyweds).

While driving, they came across a small candy shop that featured treats consisting of two layers of chocolate with a layer of soft mint candy in the middle. The Woods loved the taste of these mint sandwiches so much they asked the store’s owner if he would share his recipe with them. Since the Woods were from Utah, on the other side of the country, and posed no competitive threat, the candymaker agreed. George and Leah came home with the treat that would sustain them the rest of their lives.

Where was this fabled candy shop?

“Somewhere between Maine and Florida,” is all George and Leah would ever say.

To this day, the recipe they brought back to Utah remains a closely guarded secret, one Mike says he’s happy to share, “but then we’d have to kill you.”

The little mint sandwiches are in good hands, Mike and Linda insist. “We know we inherited a legacy that people pass down every year to their children and their grandchildren,” says Mike, “we don’t plan to let that end.”