Meet Denise and Eric Steilberger, the artisans behind Fudge DE Fûge. Using their family fudge recipe, this Ocala, Florida-based fudge business is sharing a taste of home with customers across the country.
What did you do before starting Fudge DE Fûge?
Both Denise and Eric spent most of their careers in restaurants, which only helped grow their passion for food and sharing their recipes with others.
“We had both worked in restaurants mainly. At one point, we owned a restaurant in Alaska, and we’ve both been district managers of restaurants,” Denise said.
What is your business' origin story?
“The first thing I knew how to make was fudge,” Eric said. “My mom and I would make it every Christmas — it’s the only fudge I ever remember making. I probably started helping her at age 7 or 8. It was the highlight of my year getting to help!”
“She made a delicious butterscotch chocolate fudge, and we still use the same recipe. It’s a special childhood memory to have, and fudge, of course, happens to be one of my favorite foods,” Eric said.
“We had a cafe, called Klondike Candies and More, in Skagway, Alaska,” Denise said. “Skagway is a cruise ship town, and there are always tons of people there. We sold all kinds of things, from sweets with local flair, like our caribou fudge, to chili, ice cream, baked goods, cinnamon rolls, and more. We didn’t start with fudge.”
“Eric’s mom loved to mail us care packages loaded up with chocolate chips, pecans, you name it — and as a result, we made a fudge at the cafe to honor her called Skagway Shirley. She never made it to Alaska to visit us, but we were able to honor her through her recipes and ingredients. It was always a great seller, too,” Denise said.
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“Good, old fashioned, stovetop homemade fudge,” Eric said.
Why does Eric take the time to make fudge on the stove? It creates a much better, creamier texture than microwaved fudge.
“People could make it in the microwave, for sure, it’s just different when you make it on the stovetop. It’s the way they did it 50 years ago,” Eric said. “It takes quite a bit longer and there’s a bigger chance for messing up the fudge temperature. Getting it to the correct temperature without burning it can be difficult, but it’s worth the extra effort.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your fudge?
“My favorite is our butterscotch chocolate fudge,” Eric said. “Denise’s favorite is our doppio espresso fudge — it’s a rich, dark coffee flavor. You have to really like coffee to like it, and it’s even got a little bit of a latte art look on top. We really try to keep our flavors pure.”
When it comes to dividing up the labor at Fudge DE Fûge, the Steilbergers have figured out the best processes for their business. Eric manages all of the cooking, while Denise handles marketing, taking photos, and other operations.
“Brainstorming new flavors is a collaborative process for us. It’s how we came up with a flavor like biscotti fudge, which was delicious and had a biscotti bottom with butterscotch fudge on top.
A passion for food and fudge making propels Fudge DE Fûge forward, but Eric and Denise have built charity into their work. With every order of Skagway Shirley fudge, the Steilbergers donate a portion of proceeds to a local ministry focused on providing low-income families with access to the medications they need.
Who is another cottage cook or food entrepreneur that you follow and support?
“I really admire a business called Southern Caramel. It’s been exciting to watch them grow, and communicate back and forth with them,” Denise said. “It’s exciting to think about all of the collaboration opportunities out there, you know, maybe we can try their caramels, they can try our fudge.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“Beside the amazing smell every time we cook fudge?” Denise said.
“We get to spend time together doing it,” Eric said.
“That’s a big bonus for us,” Denise said. “We spent so much time in the restaurant world where the hours are incredible — we spent so much time away from each other and it’s amazing to get to work together now.”
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are getting started?
“I would tell them to go for it!” Denise said. “If you don’t try, you don’t really know if you can succeed. If the opportunity arises to start your own business, just do it. Be fearless. Go for it. It’s simple, but it’s how we live our lives!”