June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy


MEDINA — “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Devotees of the movie, “A Christmas Story,” will quickly tell you that’s one of the signature sentences in the quirky holiday classic, spoken every time Ralphie Parker says he wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But probably the second most memorable line Ralphie blurts out is: “Oh, fudge.”

Well, he admits it’s not really “fudge” he says, after dropping the verbal bomb in a stressful scene with his dad, “The Old Man,” but the faux pas will live in the hearts of “A Christmas Story” fans forever. So much so that Medina candy entrepreneur Larry Johns, who owns McJak Candy Co., worked out a licensing deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Turner Entertainment Co. to use the infamous phrase to market its fudge.

Johns credits his wife, Francine, with the idea.

“We watch the movie every year, and we always laugh when Ralphie says ‘Oh, fudge’ in that slo-mo, drawn-out voice,” Johns said. “My wife thought it would be funny to put that on our boxes of fudge and tie it in to the movie.”

The first attempts at contacting the Warner and Turner companies failed.

“I kept hitting a dead end the first year, then my wife suggested I call “The Christmas Story” House Museum. They put me in touch with the right people.”

As part of the deal, Johns said McJak gives 10 percent of gross sales to Warner, with a guaranteed minimum of $25,000 over a three-year period.

McJak is one of the few small companies that followed through from proposal to completion of a product, Warner officials told Johns.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” said Johns, who bought McJak in 2000. Karen McCurdy and Bill Lonjak founded the company in 1982.

Although the company’s fudge always has been a strong, reliable seller, Johns said the firm has improved the recipe, switching to real butter and whole milk when whipping up the creamy chocolate and chocolate walnut concoctions. Each batch is hand-stirred in copper kettles.

“It’s a good, old-fashioned fudge recipe,” he said. “And we have a walk-in cooler now, and a better setup for weekly deliveries.”

Johns added “A Christmas Story” themed package, created according to specifications of Warner Bros. marketing department. Done in red or green, the box sports a photo of Ralphie with the famous phrase — “Ohh … FFFFudge!” — captured in a cartoon bubble, along with key scenes from the movie on the sides.

“They’re very specific about the colors, the fonts, all that,” he said. “They send a style guide that includes a big book of acceptable colors, clip art, scenes from the movie, everything that will keep the look of the product uniform with other items that tie in to the movie. Even the little stars on the package fit in with the 1940s era of the movie.”

The fudge will be sold locally at Walgreen’s, the Tractor Supply Co., Barnes & Noble college bookstores and, of course, the Christmas Story House Museum in Cleveland where the movie was filmed. It also will be available at A & P stores on the East Coast and many independent stores throughout the country. The suggested price for the 9-ounce package is $3.99.

“We’re already shipping orders to New York, Illinois, California, North Carolina,” Johns said, thumping a neat stack of boxes ready to roll.

McJak, which currently employs about 35 people as it prepares for the surge of seasonal orders, also cooks up individually wrapped portions of fudge, tins of fudge, soft spoonable fudge in snack-size packages, strawberry cheesecake fudge, kettle corn, cotton candy and gourmet java pops — caffeine-enhanced suckers for grown-ups. Johns said they also have developed the “Sucka,” a line of fruit-flavored, caffeinated lollipops.

“We’ve had some flops, like the Ugly Sucker,” Johns said, describing the sweet but definitely not pretty treat that boasted funny faces, bulgy eyes and gummy hair. “It tested well, and it was priced to sell at 99 cents, but it never really took off. We’re fairly confident the fudge will be a big seller.”

So much so, that in true “A Christmas Story” tradition, Johns “triple-dog dares you to try to find a better fudge.”

For more information, visit www.mcjakcandy.com.