On November 28, 1981, the City of Issaquah honors Julius Boehm (1897-1981) for his contributions as a civic leader and founder and longtime proprietor of Boehm's Candies in the city by proclaiming that Saturday to be Julius Boehm Day. The date, the second to be proclaimed as Julius Boehm Day (following an earlier proclamation in 1978), marks 25 years since the chocolatier opened in Issaquah and reflects the enduring character of Boehm as a leading figure in the community.
A Candy Maker Comes to America
Born in Vienna, Austria, company founder Julius Boehm (1897-1981) was a skilled mountaineer and athlete who fled from Nazi Germany to Switzerland, his mother's home country, in 1940. One year later he came to the East Coast of the United States and shortly afterward settled in the Pacific Northwest. In 1942, with partner George Tedlock (1906-2009), Boehm opened his first store, Boehm's Candy Kitchen, at 559 Ravenna Boulevard in Seattle. Boehm maintained a commitment throughout his life to his new homeland in the Northwest:
"Here, a man can climb a mountain and touch God's face. Here a man can see the stars and breathe free. This is my home, and here I shall stay" (Roberge).
By 1954, Boehm had purchased three acres of property in Issaquah with a view toward expansion. His love of St. Bernard dogs led to the establishment of a dog kennel on the grounds, which remained a fixture of the property until 1981. In 1956, Boehm opened a second store for his confections company on the Sunset Highway in east Issaquah. Modeled after an "Edelweiss chalet" in Tyrolean style from Boehm's homeland of Austria, the store building -- designed by Walter Schefer (1929-2015) from Appenzell, Switzerland -- had the distinction of being the first Alpine chalet constructed in the Pacific Northwest. Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the chalet also served as Boehm's residence, with an apartment equipped with its own kitchen on the second floor above the store and candy-preparation area.
More Than Just a Candy Outlet
From its start, Boehm's new store in Issaquah represented more than just another candy outlet for the founder's company. It was decorated by Swiss artisans to re-create the land of Boehm's grandfather, a maker of pastries and candies from Switzerland. Carved seals of Salzberg and Tyrol added to the Austrian flavor of the building, murals of Alpine mountain climbers decorated the exterior walls, and fountains and statuary were added to the grounds, further enhancing the landscape.
Julius Boehm was noted for his love of European art, as well as skiing, swimming, and alpine mountain climbing. His rooms above the chalet kitchen were decorated with stained glass, custom woodworked cabinets (some of which hid a television, magnetic-tape audio player, and other electronics of the era), bronze statuary, and oil paintings done in the style of Romanticism, with copies of Renaissance master works, such as Michelangelo's David, prominently on display in an hallway alcove.
In 1978, Boehm commissioned an Alpine chapel to be built on the grounds as a memorial to mountaineers who have perished. The chapel was a replica of one dating to the twelfth century located in the mountain village of Ilse Maria, near St. Moritz, Switzerland, not far from the birthplace of Boehm's mother. The chapel was completed in 1981 and dedicated as the Luis Trenker Kirch'l, named after Alois Franz "Luis" Trenker (1903-1988), a film star, mountaineer, and friend of Julius Boehm.
The church's interior included a bronze bell imported from Switzerland -- in 2018 the bell was still being rung to celebrate marriages performed in the chapel -- and a ceiling mural painted by Baroness Margaret von Wrangel (1919-2005) after Michelangelo's fresco paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the Vatican. Earlier, von Wrangel had also contributed one of the exterior-wall murals on the chalet, of a mountain climber ascending a peak, and she worked for many years making chocolates by hand in the Boehm's Candy Kitchen. Following its construction, the church was briefly operated by a nonprofit organization that Julius Boehm helped to establish for mountain climbers; however, that was short-lived and by the late 1980s the Boehm company assumed control of the chapel.
Making Chocolates and Serving the Community
When it came to the making of his chocolates, Julius Boehm was a perfectionist of the highest order. Bernard Garbusjuk (b. 1943) joined Boehm's Candies in 1972 as a candy maker, and took over ownership of the company in 1981. Looking back on more than three decades running the company, Garbusjuk noted that the high quality of the chocolates established by Boehm and produced over the past 60 years of the company's operations remained unchanged. Ingredients such as Swiss chocolate, fresh cream, and butter were all mainstays in use by the kitchen from its start in 1956.
More than 200 distinct recipes were created, ranging from truffles and caramels to chocolates containing liquor, nuts, salts, ginger, and other flavors for visitors to enjoy and purchase. New confections were often made, "after the working day" was over, such as a candy called Edelweiss that Boehm invented in 1957 (Petite). Other recipes Boehm had obtained from his grandfather in Switzerland, including one for a cream truffle.
The City of Issaquah recognized Julius Boehm for his many contributions to Issaquah and the region, as well as the unique business he established, by declaring September 30, 1978, to be Julius Boehm Day. It was the first of two such honors. A second Julius Boehm Day was proclaimed by the city on Saturday, November 28, 1981, less than a month before Boehm's death that December a few days before his 84th birthday.
By 1999, Boehm's Candies produced 400,000 pounds of chocolate each year, with the majority continuing to be made on site in Issaquah. Over the years, the company hired many local young adults whose work in the kitchen or store provided a gateway job into the workforce. Garbusjuk estimated that more than 1,000 high-school-age students have worked at Boehm's Candies as their first job; some of them children of former employees. Recalling his own training as a new apprentice in 1972, Garbusjuk called Boehm "tough" in his demanding attention to detail and perfection in the candy making process.
Enduring Business and Landmark
In 2010, the Issaquah Chamber of commerce called the company and its workforce of 28 employees a "longtime ... cherished member of the community," and suggested it "should be seen as part of the solution, not a source of more tax revenue" (Watson). That year the Washington State Legislature had passed new taxes on candy, with exemptions only for products made with flour or requiring refrigeration. Some of the company's candies were newly taxable (chocolate-dipped strawberries), while others were not. Despite the new taxes (which were quickly repealed by state voters), demand for the chocolatier's confections continued undiminished.
While the original European character of the company has remained a part of the Boehm legacy, this has not been without its own challenges. A report on Garbusjuk's 2016 induction into the Candy Hall of Fame noted that "incorporating fast-paced, high-tech and changing consumer attitudes into a business with an old-world aura has been his greatest challenge, but one that he has found the key to managing" ("Bernard Garbusjuk Inducted ...").
The quality and uniqueness of its founder's chocolates has continued to be the foundation of Boehm's Candies as an enduring business and landmark in Issaquah. In 2018 a listing of the company's "tasting box" assortment included 21 different confections, ranging from an "Aztec Spice Truffle Sheet" to a "Curry Spice" fusion of gourmet milk chocolate and Indian Madras curry. More than 200,000 travelers annually visit the store at its original location in east Issaquah, next to the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90. In the summer months, daily tours of the Candy Kitchen, the second-floor living quarters of Julius Boehm, and the grounds are offered to visitors, with tours in the off season available by appointment.