FLORENCE — CoryAnn Ecenbarger says she makes fudge with sugar, butter, other special ingredients, plus “a little bit of love and a lot of ornery.”

But it’s love that made her Florence Fudge Shop & Café possible. The shop, like other restaurants, closed last year amid pandemic restrictions, just five days after Ecenbarger bought it. When she was able to reopen more than four months later, she had no way of knowing if customers would be back.

“But the amount of love that walked through that door for us has been amazing. I’m blessed with this town. … all kinds of different people. It’s been neat, the amount of love for us. And it’s neat to see how many people want to support small businesses now.”

Ecenbarger bought the shop at 440 N. Main St. (in Silver King Marketplace) after 11 years with the store, when it was a nonprofit owned by Mosaic Church of the Nazarene. In those years, she helped it evolve from a snack shop to a lunch spot with unique sandwiches and salads.

She recently added “Cafe” to the name. Today, lunch and sweets are probably equal parts of the business, she said. “The whole thing, I guess, just works,” Ecenbarger said in late July as several late-lunch customers were digging into their orders.

In the year since she reopened, Ecenbarger sanded down and painted the tables and saved up for new chairs. She made a wall with pallet pieces in front of the stock room, recently began selling reusable to-go coffee containers sporting the shop logo, and has plans for more. “Just little things I’ve been saving up for … to kind of put my own name on it.”

A church representative told her when she bought it, “That place is you, you did it. Go for it and have fun.”

A major component of that fun is fudge, and even though a big stainless-steel “fudge machine” does most of the work, there’s an art to it. The fudge can’t be too hard or too soft. Ecenbarger can’t explain it scientifically, but the fudge won’t “set” and remains gooey on cloudy days. “I just noticed that throughout years of making it.”

On this particular sunny summer day, with dwindling selections of Snickers, mint chocolate and turtle fudge in the display case, Ecenbarger was making a half batch — three pans — of cookies & cream, peanut butter chocolate and chewy praline.

The shop has long used Disneyland’s fudge recipe. In fact, Florence might be one of the last places to make the amusement park’s fudge. Ecenbarger heard Disneyland doesn’t sell it anymore, but she’s not sure. “I haven’t been there in forever.”

After just under an hour of ingredients heating and churning in the machine, Ecenbarger looked for a certain smoothness and shine to indicate the fudge was ready to pour. She poured some in a container with some crushed Oreos, mixed it all together and spread it in a pan. It would be ready to cut the next day.


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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