The Ryba’s Fudge story and the family history surrounding its confectionery craft began in 1936 when Harry Ryba opened his first sweet shop at Jefferson and Chalmers on Detroit’s east side. It’s there that he began selling delectable fudge, donuts and caramel corn.
Ten years later Ryba opened a second store at Mack and Chalmers, where he began to hone his skill as a master fudge maker.
Around that time a 13 year-old began selling newspapers outside Harry’s store got his attention. Finding himself slightly irritated and distracted by the loud, but driven kid and yet impressed by his determination, Harry decided to hire him. That boy was Victor Callewaert who would end up marrying Harry’s daughter, Rena, and become his business partner for the next 30 years.
Ryba’s Fudge took off in the early 1950’s when Harry and Victor began selling their fudge at events and fairs, most notably the Detroit Auto Show at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. For 65 years Ryba’s has become a mainstay at what is now the North American International Auto Show, as well as since 1956 at the Chicago Auto Show.
In 1960 Harry and Victor opened their first fudge shop on Mackinac Island and there began the legacy that tourists and islanders alike enjoy year after year. Two of Harry’s marketing decisions earned him the unofficial title of “Fudge King” on the Island. Those decisions — making fudge in the storefront window and fanning the aroma onto the sidewalk – went on to be copied by others in the business.
The opening of Ryba’s Fudge Shop on Mackinac proved to be a starting point from which the Ryba Family grew its business. They opened The Pancake House, purchased and renovated the Lakeview Hotel, and bought the Island House Hotel, which was slated for demolition. After extensive renovations the Island House reopened in 1972 and is now listed on the register of Michigan State Historic Sites and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Since creating a separate venture in 1988, the Callewaert Family now owns and operates Ryba’s Fudge Shops on Mackinac Island and in Chicago, Illinois at McCormick Place and Navy Pier. They own the Island House Hotel, the oldest hotel on Mackinac Island, and its 1852 Grill Room and Ice House BBQ restaurants. Among their other Mackinac Island ventures are The Pancake House; Mary’s Bistro and Draught House; Mackinac Island Starbucks, along with several Starbucks locations in Chicago; the Seabiscuit Café; Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast; the Bayside Bar & BBQ;, and a Jimmy John’s franchise in Florida.
Victor and Rena’s children – Todd, Mary, Ann and Gregg – now own the company with each providing leadership with the on-going counsel of their father who remains a fixture on Mackinac Island.
Though Harry Ryba passed away in 1996 his children and grandchildren – which includes four generations of extended family members who have helped in the business, too — have made sure the legacy of the “Fudge King” and the craft he has worked so hard for, magnificently lives on.