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The Original Frango Mints

As everybody from Seattle knows, Frango mints were originally developed here and were sold in the Frederick & Nelson department stores (that is, until Frederick's went out of business in 1992 - now they are sold in the Bon Marche stores).  But during the time I spent living on the east coast, I was stunned to learn that people from other parts of the country think that Frangos are from Chicago.

So to set the record straight, here's the deal with the origin of Frango mints.  Frangos were invented in Seattle around the beginning of the twentieth century.  It was originally a frozen desert (Frango ice cream) that was served in the Frederick & Nelson tea room, and the candy form was introduced a few years later.

Then, in 1929, Donald Edward Frederick - the surviving co-founder of F&N - turned 69 and decided to retire.  He sold the business to Marshall Field & Co. for $6 million.  Recognizing a good thing when they bought it, Marshall Field then decided to produce and sell Frango mints in their flagship store in Chicago.  The Frederick & Nelson subsidiary, meanwhile, continued to produce and sell Frangos in the Northwest.

1n 1982, after mismanaging Frederick's nearly to death, Marshall Field sold Frederick & Nelson to Batus Inc. (the first of three owners in its final 10 years - none of which were able to bring F&N back to its former glory), but they retained the rights to Frangos (and licensed back to F&N the right to produce and sell Frangos in the Northwest).

Then, in 1991, David Sabey, the final owner of Frederick & Nelson filed for bankruptcy, and in 1992, Frederick & Nelson closed.  During the bankruptcy proceedings, there was apparently a struggle for the future of Frangos in Seattle.  I'm not sure of the legal details, but as part of the liquidation of its assets, Frederick's wanted to sell the right to produce Frangos in the Northwest to the other large Seattle department store, the Bon Marche.  Marshall Field tried to block this sale, but there eventually was an agreement for Marshall Field to license the right to produce Frangos to Frederick's Fine Chocolates (located in Kent, just southeast of Seattle), and the right to sell Frangos to the Bon. 

Frederick's Fine Chocolates still uses the original Frango recipe, while the Marshall Fields version has apparently been changed over the years (at least according to the general manager of Frederick's Fine Chocolates).

When I tried to convince my non-Seattle friends that Frangos are from Seattle, I was met only with amused disbelief.  So I finally decided to try to find some convincing evidence.  Ironically, the first evidence I found was in an AP article about how upset people were in Chicago when, in March 1999, Marshall Field decided to move Frango production from the Marshall Field flagship store and contract it out to a candy maker in Pennsylvania.  After talking about how Frangos are a Chicago institution (one Chicago Tribune reporter called Frangos "half chocolate, half Chicago"), the article, in one of the final paragraphs, acknowledged that Frangos were purchased by Marshall Field in 1929 from "a West Coast department store chain."

So I did a little more digging, and found an excellent article in Chicago's own newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, which describes the true origin of Frango mints.

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Last Updated 22 July 2005
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