Famous in its day: Blum’s

In the early 1890s Simon and Clemence Blum started a confectionery business in San Francisco, creating a brand that would become one of the nation’s largest. In 1907 they relocated to what become the store’s lifetime address at Polk and California after their earlier location was destroyed in the earthquake and catastrophic fire of 1906. By the 1920s, if not earlier, Blum’s was serving three meals a day in addition to selling their handmade confectionery.

With Simon’s death in 1915 and that of his son Jack in the 1930s, the business passed into the hands of Fred Levy who had married Simon’s daughter. This was in the depths of the Depression when few could afford candy and Blum’s was close to failing. Somehow Levy resurrected the business, getting through the Depression, and then sugar rationing during World War II. By 1947, the business was in good shape, reporting sales of over $3.5M, most of it coming from the Polk Street store, and the rest from sales in department stores and mail orders.

In addition to endless varieties of chocolate candies, Blum’s also specialized in ice cream, including its “fresh spinach” flavor, ice cream desserts, baked goods such as Koffee Krunch cake, fruit and vegetable salads, “Blumburgers,” and triple decker sandwiches.

Levy brought innovations, switching to machine production of candy in 1949 and, a few years later, introducing a successful 10-cent candy bar for sale in vending machines. The candy bars as well as a second brand of lower-priced boxed candy sold in Rexall drugstores under the name Candy Artists. These products developed out of his belief that postwar consumers were unwilling to pay for premium candy.

That year Blum’s opened its 2nd company-owned-and-operated store, in San Mateo. Its candy counters in department stores such as I. Magnin, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, and others were not run by Blum’s.

Also in 1949 a “Blum’s Confectaurant” opened in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel [shown above]. The Polk street store also had a confectaurant, as its combination soda fountain + candy counter + bakeshop + restaurant was known. The term refers to an eating place that has table service for dessert orders only as well as for meals, and was likely used only in California.

Levy sold his shares in Blum’s in 1952 and resigned as head, but the number of stores continued to grow under a succession of new owners. Expansion began in October 1953 with the opening of an outlet in the Stonestown Mall.

In 1956, in addition to Blum’s four San Francisco locations (Polk St., Fairmont Hotel, Stonestown, and Union Square), there were stores in Carmel, Pasadena, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and San Mateo and three more planned to open soon in Palo Alto, San Rafael, and San Jose.

A luxurious Blum’s opened in 1959 at Wilshire and Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills [shown above]. It had a cleverly named “Board Room” reserved for men during the daytime, outfitted with dark paneling, crystal chandeliers, and a long cocktail bar — plus a stock ticker in the corner. Serving alcohol may have been an innovation for Blum’s at this time, repeated when their New York City location opened in 1965 on East 59th Street [see below]. Making an appeal to men was also new for Blum’s, which had customarily located in shopping areas where women abounded.

The New York Blum’s stayed in business only about six years, and two Oregon units opened in 1967 and 1968 fared even worse. The one in Salem closed after only nine months while Blum’s in Portland stayed in business fourteen months.

Since the late 1950s Blum’s had passed through the hands of various majority stockholders. The first, Owl/Rexall Drugs, was followed by the California-based chain Uncle John’s Pancake House. After Uncle John’s came General Host Corp., then National Environment in 1968, shortly thereafter renamed Envirofood. Things did not go well for Blum’s after that. In 1970 “surplus” equipment and furnishings were auctioned at the original Blum’s on Polk. The following year, the company was sold to an investor in Lincoln, Nebraska, who soon moved headquarters there. In 1972 he closed the Polk Street Blum’s, leading columnist Herb Caen to coin the term “glum Blummer.” In a few more years there would be no Blum’s left in San Francisco.

Blum’s candy continued to be produced for years despite the brand being acquired by a Kansas City MO company in 1983. Perhaps no longer world famous, it was undoubtedly remembered by Californians who recalled when “Blum’s of San Francisco” was a proud name. As late as 1984 a Blum’s Restaurant was in operation at the I. Magnin store in Los Angeles, where patrons could indulge themselves with a Giant Banana Bonanza for $3.95. And a florist in Napa CA was still selling boxes of Blum’s candy for Easter in 1991.

© Jan Whitaker, 2021


Filed under chain restaurants, confectionery restaurants

10 responses to “Famous in its day: Blum’s


    If you are taking requests for other sacred stand-bys, Miz Brown’s on Lombard–another late night place which served hot apple pie with cinnamon sauce, a slice of cheddar cheese, and a cup of coffee before hitting the road back to Santa Rosa. Also, there have been several things written about Magic Pan and Paprikas Fono, but you might have some new insights about two more restaurants that I still miss.


    Thank you for the recollections and connecting the dots. Shortly after moving to Santa Rosa in 1959, Blum’s was recommended as an after-movie repast. Hot Fudge Sundae? As an 8-year old kid my only point of reference of a sundae was a scoop of Meadow Gold ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. But …. friends suggested it. Things were never the same again and there has never been an equal to Blum’s Hot Fudge Sundaes. Another dessert, C’est si bon, wickedly indulgent. Special requests? an Orange Sherbet float. Sandwiches? a pate made of cottage cheese, cream cheese, walnuts, and black olives on their incomparable nut bread (a version of which I still attempt to make). There was also a crusty, no-nonsense, career waitress who brought fiber to the establishment, flaming red hair, who introduced us to (of all things) — space shoes. She described them to us as she was on the fly but said she couldn’t have kept working without them. Even at $150.00 a pair (1960s dollars). I often wondered what became of her and the shoes. But the Blum’s saga was an ignominious end to such an integral part of San Francisco.

  3. Lora

    Love the article on Blums. Brought me such heart loving memories. We lived about 75 miles from San Francisco and every pre Christmas my mom would take my two older sisters and I shopping at Macy’s in Union Square. My sisters were 15 (twins) and I was 9. Mom gave me $5.00 and I went shopping for gifts, alone! After we all met up we’d go to Blums and I’d get a bowl of delicious soup so I could then get a very large hot fudge sundae. It was always the best day and I looked forward to Blums every year! The article was so interesting as I never knew the ups and downs of Blums but it made me a bit sad. It really was a wonderful childhood memory and I loved hearing about Blums! Thank you!! Lora

  4. Julie Thompson

    Wonderful article…My Gram used to take me to Blum’s located in Town & Country plaza in SJ when I was very young. Really a magical place! Food and treats were off the charts. Loved The Nut Tree, as well. Miss them both.

  5. Pingback: February 2021 Wrap Up – Chasing the Four Winds

  6. Pingback: Lifestyle/food : Famous in its day: Blum’s – The Urban Fishing Pole: Cigar Blogger, Lifestyle

  7. Marcia Biederman

    I remember the Stonestown strip mall (although not the Blum’s in it). It was near San Francisco State U., where I got my master’s degree. The Blum’s I recall was at Union Square. Elegant! Patricia Murphy’s in Deerfield Beach, FL, also tried that tactic of setting up “men’s hours” for a while (with telephones on bar tables for conducting business) but it couldn’t “purge” its image of catering mostly to women. What a sad commentary on gender bias. Thanks for this!

    • Marcia, I didn’t know that about Patricia Murphy’s — thanks! It is indeed sad (and maddening) to realize how men desperately shun/ned anything “tainted” with femininity.

  8. MM Pack

    I wonder if you knew about the continuation of Blum’s coffee crunch cake in San Francisco at Yasukochi Sweet Shop in Japantown. I never got to taste a Blum’s original, but this version remains a favorite with longtime SF families (and others, like me).

  9. adrienne crew

    OMG I love your newsletter but this post is a home run of epic proportions! i grew up in Pasadena,CA and my family vacationed in San Francisco every year. I had many happy episodes at a Blum’s candy store in my youth. Thanks for triggering so many stellar memories!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.