EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE Owner Johnny Saldana offers a variety of fudge and saltwater taffy.
CRESWELL – It was Johnny Saldana III’s sweet tooth that brought him on the journey of creating Bigfoot Fudge Factory. When he was at a co-worker’s wedding reception he noticed an array of different fudge flavors, which were made by the co-worker’s mother. When he followed up with her, she became his fudge-making mentor and he started his fudge-selling side hustle.
Four years later, Saldana now runs Bigfoot Fudge Factory full-time. He has a retail store located at 25 N. 1st St. in Creswell sells his product in 25 retail stores, as well as on contract with the University of Oregon.
Even with the pandemic, Saldana has been able to expand his business. At the beginning of the year he moved into a new factory location to keep up with the demand from the UO contract. Although that has been put on hold, it still gives him more opportunity to focus on his retail partners and retail store.
“It’s not fun to say because of how awful it is but it’s helped me get to where I am now,” he said.
One of his retailers, Carol Reeves, owner of The Flower Basket and Gift Boutique in Cottage Grove, said how happy she is to partner with Saldana and that they “love to carry locally made products in our store.”
ShariAnn Claric, manager at Dandelion Flowers in Eugene said that the whole staff really appreciates Saldana’s inventiveness with flavors and his openness to input about those flavors. Bigfoot Fudge does an “excellent job” providing seasonal flavor options and that Saldana always surprises them with the amount of flavor varieties for their clients to choose from.
“He is so excited about his fudge whenever we talk with him; we always look forward to sampling his next new invention. We love Johnny’s smile and genuine eagerness to create an amazing flavor experience for his customers,” Claric said, adding that she consulted her staff for their thoughts on Saldana.
Making fudge is a relatively easy three-step process, said Saldana, who can make a 33-pound batch in an hour. He has moved away from using the stove top to make the candy and instead uses a kettle. He explained that after creating a base, which is either plain or chocolate fudge, he will then add other flavorings, coloring and nuts, as well as his signature Bigfoot swirls.
“People before me have figured it out to make it easy for me,” he said.
Although he now has the process ironed out, Saldana said there was a learning curve and challenge to streamline the business. His first big kettle took around six hours.
“It was all day, it seemed like,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Every day he said he tries something new to create better than the day before. He gets his ideas of flavorings from friends and family, or if he finds something he likes he will try to replicate that into a fudge.
Going forward, Saldana has big plans for Bigfoot Fudge. His main focus at the moment is updating his website and e-commerce, especially as he’s getting more online traffic. He also is working with the Made in Oregon stores to get his fudge featured, especially at the airport, and he wants to sign with another large contract in the future too.
The biggest project Saldana’s working on, however, will be expanding Bigfoot Fudge Factory’s shop to include old-fashioned scooped ice cream that he will partner with Prince Pückler’s in Eugene to provide. Saldana is saving up now to buy a big freezer, but he said with his business being debt-free he waits until he can afford a purchase before he makes it.
Beyond fudge being rewarding in itself, Saldana said that it’s the smiles he gets from people and the ability to meet new people every day that means the most to him.
“You take a bit out of the fudge and you just kind of smile,” he said, “and that makes me feel pretty darn good.”