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Thursday, January 6, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Don't call it Frango in Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

The new name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue — or melt in the mouth — but Frango chocolate truffles, a part of Seattle for almost as long as the Smith Tower, are being rebranded later this month as Frederick & Nelson The Original.

Don't blame Bon-Macy's, which wanted to retain the iconic name, spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said. It has sold the candies under the Frango name exclusively in the Pacific Northwest since Frederick & Nelson, creator of Frangos, closed its stores in 1992.

But Bon-Macy's licensing agreement with St. Louis-based May Department Stores, which owns the rights to the Frango name, ends Jan. 29. And May, a competitor of Macy's, decided not to renew it.

"It's a shame," said Robert Spector, a West Seattle retail historian who wrote "The Legend of Frango Chocolate" in 1993. "Frango, especially for native Seattleites, is an important part of the identity of the city and of growing up in Seattle."

Bon-Macy's won't release sales figures, but suffice it to say that Frangos are among the most popular holiday gift items it sells. At the downtown Seattle store over the holidays, the main display window was transformed into a mini-store devoted to selling the popular candies.

Although the Frango name is vanishing from the familiar 8-ounce hexagonal package, the meltaway chocolates inside will not change. They will continue to be sold year-round in 10 flavors, including mint and mocha, and four additional holiday flavors.

"We want our customers to know that the truffle will be made with the same recipe," Reason said. "The candy will be as delicious as it always has been."

That's not to say there no longer will be Frangos — and this is where it can get confusing.

Chocolates made with almost the same recipe will continue to be sold under the Frango name by Marshall Field's, a May-owned department store chain in the Upper Midwest that has sold them since 1929. And a Frango-like candy manufactured by a Kent company and sold locally under the Frederick & Nelson name is being pulled off retail shelves because of a lawsuit by Bon-Macy's.

Spector said that just as Seattle lays claim to Frangos, Chicago honors them as its quintessential confection, going as far as to say they were invented there.

No way, Windy City.

Spector said Frango origins go back to 1918 as the name for a frozen dessert sold at the sophisticated Tea Room at Frederick & Nelson's new department store at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, a building now occupied by Nordstrom. In Spector's book, a consumer recalls the frozen treat as a silky confection that melted in the mouth, its consistency so flaky it had to be eaten with a dessert fork.

The Frango name eventually was extended to ice-cream sodas, pies and milkshakes sold at the store. It wasn't until 1927 when Ray Alden, who ran Frederick's in-store candy kitchen, developed the Frango mint meltaway chocolate. The recipe called for cocoa beans from the African coast or South America, triple-distilled oil of Oregon peppermint and 40 percent butter.

When Frederick's was sold to Marshall Field's in 1929, that department store began selling Frangos, establishing the Chicago tradition. Frangos originally were sold in round tins, but World War II necessitated a change to a cardboard container.

No one is certain where the Frango name came from, but Spector figures the "Fr" stands for Frederick's and that the "ango" may have been an attempt to capitalize on a dance craze of the era, the tango.

Bon-Macy gives a tip of the fedora to Frederick & Nelson in renaming the candies in its memory.

"Frango is a brand with a great deal of emotional equity for our customers, and we respect that," Reason said. "Given that we are not able to keep that name, we wanted to find one that would honor the tradition of the truffle, and we believe Frederick & Nelson The Original does that."

Bon-Macy's, formerly The Bon Marché, itself is undergoing a name change in March, becoming simply Macy's. The two name changes are unrelated, Reason said.

The loss of the Frango name also has nothing to do with the legal battle settled last October with the Kent chocolatier, Seattle Gourmet Foods.

As a result of that settlement, the licensing rights to the original Frango recipe now indisputably belongs to Bon-Macy's, which purchased it in 1992 from Frederick & Nelson, Reason said. Marshall Field's Frango recipe has been tweaked over the years from the original Frederick's version.

Marshall Field's, which May bought last year, will continue to sell its Frangos exclusively at the chain's 62 stores, which reach as far west as the Dakotas, and online.

The newly branded Frederick & Nelson The Original chocolates will go on sale in February as Bon-Macy's rids itself of its Frango stock.

But Spector figures most people in the Pacific Northwest — especially longtime residents — will continue calling the truffles by their familiar name: Frango.

"You can change the name, but it's still a link to Seattle's past," he said.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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