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
26 responses to “Famous in its day: Blum’s”
This posting was fabulous, it took me down memory lane. I worked at the Telephone Company (PT&T) for over ten years on New Montgomery and Market St. I would walk through the Sheraton Palace Hotel and stop next door at Blum’s sit at their counter and enjoy the Coffee Crunch Cake, it was a weekly treat, such delicious memories. Thanks for posting this article.
In the late 1970’s I contacted them and learned that they were opening in Harrisburg Pa. I was in Ca., at the time, and by the time I returned to Pa they closed up. The San francisco store was lovely.
My Mother would buy Blum candies at the Beverly Hills location on Wilshire Blvd. I loved going in there with her. My favorites were the chocolate brandy. They came in pink wrappers and so delicious! She let me have them even though I was only 7 or 8 years old! Wish they still made them. Later on in years a local liquor store in Camarillo California sold them!!!
We had a few of the pink tins at home which my mom kept around. I though the graphics were a bit nightmarish – my kid brain trying to imagine real people walking around with those proportions!
In Portland, I bought chocolate-covered licorice caramels. Surprisingly delicious! Miss them.
Great historical article, thanks. My mom and dad had the flower shop on Polk in the Blum’s building for almost 20 years until the fire. I can remember many trips to the counter for a chocolate coke or getting the awesome custard pastries. And the pink outfits! Next door was the liquor store where as a kid I would buy my moms Raleigh plain cigs for 25 cents, and if we were lucky, Hombre Montana the wrestler would be hanging out.
Many memories growing up there. Another great bakery was Hokamps, they made this cinnamon apple crisp pastry that was off the hook good!
Obviously we had our fill of sweets on Polk.
Aloha from Kaua’i!! I grew up and live in Hawaii and all of a sudden got a craving for Blums Almondettes! I’ve never been to San Francisco but I remember loving how yummy, gooey, chewy and crunchy those dark caramel candies were in the pink cherub tin! It took all my little kid self control not to eat all of my sisters stash! So I googled it and I’m so disappointed that I can’t get them anymore! T_T Now it will forever be a cherished memory that reminds me of my sister!
I found a picture of the can here in Pinterest! Hope the link goes through!
Excellent coverage. I learned things I was not aware of. –
Chris Blum ( great grandson of Simon Blum )
My parents had a flower shop in the same building on Polk street and as kids we would get a pot of coffee there every morning and some of the waitresses would give us candy and ice cream. I miss those days.
I used to work at Blum’s in the early 60s at Union Square. What I remember most about the pastries were the rum babas with real rum. The sundaes were great. The coffeeista one had coffee ice cream with hot fudge topping.
Our uniforms were Disneyland like. They comprised 4 pieces. There was a peter pan collar blouse worn under a pink-striped pinafore dress make of seersucker. We had a round apron surrounded with ruffles and that added bonus of a flat-round head piece made of chiffon with a large rose on top and a pink velvet ribbon hanging in the back.
I wish someone had a picture of it because it’s still imprinted in my memory.
Sally Moore Goldman
Finding your post made me smile. I too am looking for pictures of the S.F. Union Square. It was definitely the prettiest of the stores. You were a part of that place, a living confection. I have kept it in my heart and memory for 50+ years. If I could travel time, Blum’s is the only place I’d return to. Thanks for posting.
Thanks for sharing this. The picture attributable to the Wilshire Blvd. & Beverly Drive location, is actually their first location in Beverly Hills – in the 300 block of North Camden Drive. The Camden Drive location had tree branches adorning the the walls, behind the banquettes, to which were attached individually-wrapped Blum’s candies – for the “picking”. A real thrill for kids – of which I was one, at the time.
I first went to Blum’s in San Francisco in 1969. It was near Union Square. It was furnished in turn of the century style with Vienna chairs cover in red velvet. The soda fountain counter had a glass mirror. The hot fudge sundae was served in a beautiful glass goblet. Does anyone have pictures of the interior? I miss it so much, I need to see it again. I heard after leaving SF they opened a shop in Harrisburg Pa. In fact I spoke with them. They didn’t expect to have success. Please anyone with pictures, share.
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.
Also at Polk and pine st.
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.
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
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.
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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.
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).
The coffee crunch cake may be ordered at Lotta’s Bakery on Polk. I visited the Blum’s at the Fairmont in the ’70s and remember the Blum’s on Polk before it burned down.
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!