A couple and their young daughter walk into the small, cozy shop where the sweet smell of fudge has permeated the air for the past 35 years.
The woman, a regular customer, greets Carol Friesen with a hug and says, “We love you.”
Herman Friesen and his wife Carol have have had to tell customers they will be closing after 20 years of owning Fat Phege’s Fudge Factory. It was the first business to open in Victoria’s Market Square 35 years ago.
Market Square owners, Anthem Properties, informed the Saanich residents in October that their lease won’t be renewed past April 2012.
“One gentleman has been coming here since he was this high,” Friesen says, motioning his hand near his knee. “He said, ‘You can’t go. You’re not allowed.’ We hear that all the time.”
In a letter to the Friesens, the company said it is changing Market Square "from a festival retail centre to a street-oriented mixed-use retail centre." By upgrading the quality of retailers and their units, the firm said it hopes to allow the market to stay competitive and appeal to a more sophisticated clientele.
“I don’t see how we don’t fit into that,” Friesen says.
The company told the couple it wants to combine their unit with a recently vacated neighbouring space that faces Store Street. Friesen says he has no interest in expanding.
“I’m sad I’m going to lose track of my kids,” Carol says emerging from her side of the shop where she serves ice cream, french fries and mini doughnuts, among other goodies, to customers at her take-out window.
“And when she calls them kids, they’re 35 years old now,” her husband says from his side of the shop where a long counter holds dark chocolate-covered ginger, nuts, French nougat, Turkish delight, candies and several flavours of fudge, including maple walnut, chocolate chip cookie dough and Bailey’s Irish cream, among others.
The couple has been tending to the sweet-tooth tastes of tourists as well as three generations of Greater Victoria residents since they first walked into the shop one Sunday afternoon in 1992.
“I bought this place in 10 minutes on a gut feeling,” says Friesen. He and his wife became the fudge factory's third set of owners. Brooke Phemister first opened the factory in 1976.
"It's been a journey. I've learned everything the hard way."
Despite facing an uncertain future, he plans to stay positive and keep his options open.
“Let’s put it this way, I always find stuff to do to keep me busy,” Friesen says with a smile. “If building planes in Bolivia comes up, then I’ll build planes in Bolivia.”