Golden Nugget Sweets produced candy bars at its factory on Market Street at Duboce Avenue for more than half a century and two of its brands, Big Hunk and Look bars, are still made today by the candymaker that bought the company in 1972.
Golden Nugget itself is remembered by San Francisco old-timers, but the history of the company is tricky to trace.
Latter day news accounts say it was founded in 1921, but a trademark was issued to Golden Nugget founder Andrew Olsen Jr. in September 1920. The trademark, depicting “Circular drawing of juvenile miner holding nugget in left hand” was created by noted Bay Area artist and illustrator George Blake Lyle (1892-1940).
Olsen, who was born in Denmark in 1895 and came to the United States in 1904, was president of Golden Nugget and the company made candy bars, packaged fudge (trademarked in 1923) and its own brand of four-minute fudge mix.
Partners in the company included Olsen’s younger brother, James, a mechanic at the factory. The brothers received several patents in the 1920s and ‘30s for candy-making machinery and packaging methods.
The company prospered even in the depths of the Great Depression and Golden Nugget increased its 1935 contribution to the Community Chest charity drive in San Francisco by 161 percent over the previous year.
Other partners were Reed Robinson and Albert Baker.
Baker, a San Francisco native and graduate of Lowell High, had a stake in Golden Nugget for 40 years.
Robinson, a native of Kentucky who came to San Francisco in 1906 at age 14, was active in regional and national candy manufacturer trade groups, serving as vice president of the National Candy Association and the Confectioner’s Traffic Bureau.
Robinson and Olsen also worked on patented devices in the 1930s and it was Robinson who guided the company to greater success in the 1940s and ’50s.
Under his leadership, Golden Nugget in the 1950s introduced two new bars that became favorites of kids and adults: Big Hunk and Look. The two new brands were a success and Robinson was featured in “Profile of a candy man,” an article in the trade magazine Candy Industry in 1953 and was given the Kettle Award as Candy Industry Man of the Year in 1956.
Robinson also served as president of the Redwood Empire Association, a business and promotional organization for the counties north of San Francisco.
Regional brands used to be a thing, mass-food wise in most regions of the United States. Homegrown businesses could start out of a kitchen, garage or other space and grow to have a loyal customer base.
That familiarity allowed locally based enterprises to compete with national brands without the advertising and promotional muscle.
The chances were good that much of the snack commodities folks consumed — beer, bread, cookies, candy, potato chips — were locally owned and manufactured nearby, even if the ingredients came from far-flung sources. Most are gone now, having been swallowed up or crowded off grocery shelves by national brands. Langendorf bread, Burgermeister beer, Granny Goose and Laura Scudder potato chips come to mind as Northern California brands that departed after many decades.
A couple of generations have grown up in the Western states with the candy bars introduced by Golden Nugget and they continue to have a faithful following today under another manufacturer.
With its principal partners all around retirement age, Golden Nugget was sold to tobacco giant Lorillard in 1965. Lorillard, like the other big cigarette makers, was looking to diversify its holdings following the 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking as the cause of fatal illnesses. Lorillard turned to candy as a healthy alternative and added another regional candymaker, Reed Candy Co., to its profile around the same time, announcing plans to elevate the two into a single national brand.
That launch never happened, however, and in 1972 Golden Nugget was sold to Annabelle Candy Co. of Hayward, another regional brand that has managed to survive at candy counters and vending machines despite competition from global competitors scale such as Nestle, Mars and Hershey. Annabelle bought another regional competitor, Cardinet Candy Co. of San Francisco, in 1978.
Annabelle continues to make and market Big Hunk, which it calls a “Chewy, honey-sweetened nougat with whole roasted peanuts,” and Look, essentially a Big Hunk covered in dark chocolate.
“Big Hunk is predominantly distributed from the West Coast to Texas,” the company says on its website, “and can be found in major drug chains, grocery and (convenience) C-Stores. Acquired back in 1970 from Golden Nugget Candy Company, Big Hunk has maintained its loyal following since the early 1950’s.”