Century Club – 2023

How retailers of chocolates, sodas, hats, and trophies, along with an institute of higher education, have made their mark for more than a century.
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Henry the Hatter | Lachman & Co. | Walsh College
Corden’s Candy Carrousel | Faygo


Henry the Hatter
Located in: Detroit and Southfield
Founded: 1893
Employees: 10
Revenue: NA

Three years before Henry Ford drove his first automobile on the streets of Detroit in 1896, 21-year-old Henry Komrofsky, who played drums in local theaters and later served on the Detroit Board of Education and as a boxing commissioner, opened a hat store on the corner of Library Street and Gratiot Avenue in the central business district that catered to the gentlemen of the Gilded Age prospering from the city’s rapid economic growth.

Henry the Hatter historic shot
Henry the Hatter got its start along Broadway St. in downtown Detroit in 1893. // Photo courtesy of Henry the Hatter

In 1919, Komrofsky took on a partner, Gustave Newman, whom he had hired as a stock boy in 1904. The duo sold a variety of brands and manufactured their own hats as Henry the Hatter boomed, particularly in the Roaring Twenties.

The store earned a national reputation for its inventory, quality, and service. In its 13 decades, customers have included scores of celebrities such as boxing champion Jack Dempsey, members of the notorious Purple Gang, President Dwight Eisenhower, actor Jeff Daniels, and musicians Jack White, Kid Rock, LL Cool J., and Hank Williams Jr.

Billed as the oldest hat retailer in the country, this year marks the 130th anniversary of the resilient retailer that has seen five different owners in various locations while surviving everything from the Depression to numerous recessions, fashion changes, lost leases, and two deadly pandemics (1918-1919 influenza and the current COVID-19). In 2017, the retailer nearly closed for good, however, when owner Paul Wasserman lost his lease at the Detroit store on Broadway Street, which had been home for 65 years.

Henry the Hatter has a store in Eastern Market. // Photo courtesy of Henry the Hatter

In 1948, seven years after Komrofsky died, Wasserman’s father, Seymour, acquired Henry the Hatter from Newman, who decided to retire. Paul Wasserman took over the business in 1991, when his father died. Joe Renkiewicz, who began selling hats in 1985 for Henry the Hatter at a since-closed store in Hamtramck, was promised by Paul Wasserman that if the business was ever sold, he would have the first option to buy it.

“When we lost the Broadway lease, Paul asked if I wanted to purchase the Southfield store (a smaller satellite store opened in Southfield in 1991), but I said that the only way I would buy Henry the Hatter is if we also found a new location in Detroit,” Renkiewicz says.

Fortunately, in late 2017, the business relocated to 2472 Riopelle St., two blocks east of Shed 2 in Eastern Market. Renkiewicz now owns 60 percent of the retailer, and will assume full ownership in 2026.

The red brick store is emblazoned with the original neon sign from the former Broadway location, and the historic setting allows customers to feel as though they’re walking back in time as rows of colorful hats — from men’s fedoras to classic dress hats, newsboy caps, and traditional bowlers — are lined up inside original Henry the Hatter 1950s cabinetry, surrounded by vintage photos and hat boxes. And while Henry the Hatter stopped manufacturing its own brand in 1985, the store continues to clean and repair hats.

Henry the Hatter Southfield store
Henry the Hatter also has a store in Southfield. // Photo courtesy of Henry the Hatter

“Weekends are especially amazing with all the foot traffic from Eastern Market, and we continue to see customers from all over the country,” Renkiewicz says. “Right now, for men and women, everyone is wearing flat brims and wide shapes — and we have a great selection.

“The problem for us (has been) trying to follow trends during the pandemic. Because of supply issues, you have to order a year in advance, and you’re not sure if the same style will be as popular the following year,” says Renkiewicz, who has been adding new brands that no one else in Michigan carries.

Along with offering a wide selection of quality hats, Renkiewicz says the key to the success of Henry the Hatter continues to be a tradition of excellent customer service. “I learned from Paul and his dad that if you treat your customers right, they’re going to come back because they know you’ll take care of them,” he says.

Often, customers come in looking for a particular hat after seeing someone wearing it on television. “As a salesperson, I have to be honest with customers. If a hat doesn’t look good with the shape of their face or what they’re going to wear it with, I’ll tell them and show them other options. Ultimately, they have to decide and pick out a hat they’re happy with.”

Invariably, out-of-state customers ask Renkiewicz if he would consider opening a Henry the Hatter in their cities. “I’m too old to do any of that. I have my hands full now with two stores while still working to provide great hats, selection, and service,” he says.

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Lachman & Co.
Located in: Southfield
Founded: 1893
Employees: 4
Revenue: NA

In 1893, back when roads carried horse-drawn buggies and the sidewalks were wooden planks, Joseph Lachman, a Lithuanian immigrant and watchmaker, opened his jewelry store on Michigan Avenue at Junction Street on Detroit’s west side.

For 98 years, until Lachman & Co. moved in 1991 to Telegraph Road just north of Eight Mile Road in Southfield, the store remained at its original Detroit location, even after suffering a devastating fire in 1943.

During that span, the jewelry store became a fourth-generation, family-owned, high-quality custom awards and executive gifts company that has been run by Carrie Lachman, the great-granddaughter of Joseph, since the mid-1980s.

Lachman & Co.'s original store storefront.
Lachman & Co.’s original store storefront. // Photo courtesy of Lachman & Co.

Her grandfather, Sol, took over the business in 1910 and, upon his passing in 1936, her father, Phillip, then age 26, inherited the store — although her mother ran it during World War II, while he served the country.

When a customer in the 1950s purchased 100 Longines clocks, the company slowly transitioned out of jewelry and started producing corporate gifts, as large corporations began giving unique tributes to clients and customers each holiday season.

“My parents traveled to Europe every year to attend gift shows, and they began acquiring hand-painted Mancioli ceramic ware from Italy and Orrefors crystal from Sweden,” says Lachman, president and owner of Lachman & Co. “I can remember, as a little kid, my siblings and I would go to the store and we would wrap thousands of those corporate gifts.
“After the tax laws changed and corporate gifts over $25 became taxable, our business pivoted to producing corporate awards, trophies, and executive gifts such as desk sets and beautiful clocks.”

Lachman says the first awards were walnut plaques with brass or nickel-plated metal before moving to crystal and glass designs with specialized etching. For years, the company has created trophies for country, boating, and equestrian clubs, while also designing and producing donor walls for hospitals and other nonprofit organizations.

A plaque for Aretha Franklin showing her father, C.C. Franklin. // Photo courtesy of Lachman & Co.

Longtime clients range from Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township to the annual NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund dinner in downtown Detroit, where honorees such as President Bill Clinton, Aretha Franklin, and Rev. Dr. Jesse Jackson have received awards.

When Cuba opened up to U.S. visitors, a local organization hired Lachman to produce a large and fancy plaque that was given to President Fidel Castro.

“Everybody in this type of business has their own niche, and there are a lot who produce plastic trophies and plaques, but we’re not in that market. We design and manufacture high-quality products that people are proud to display,” Lachman says.

Although most of the crystal and glass now comes from overseas, Lachman custom-designs, assembles, and engraves items on-site at a 6,000-square-foot facility. She says some customers have occasionally purchased less expensive awards and trophies from out of state, but invariably they come back to Lachman because the product they received “was a piece of junk and they didn’t even want to present it.

“The reason we’ve been so successful is because of our quality, long-standing personal relationships with many of our customers, and the fact that we have a quick turnaround since we design and produce the products on-site,” Lachman says.

It also helps that Lachman & Co. is a family business that’s celebrating its 130th anniversary — a feat few companies anywhere can match.

A wall installation in Garden City High School. // Photo courtesy of Lachman & Co.
A wall installation in Garden City High School. // Photo courtesy of Lachman & Co.

Lachman admits she never envisioned being the one who would end up owning and running the business, but when she graduated from college in 1982, her father suffered a stroke. To help out, she immediately began working at the company. Three years later, she was running the show.

She has never looked back, and still enjoys the daily work.

“I tell people that I’m in the ego business, and they just laugh, but it’s really true,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to know that we’re producing an award or a recognition gift that makes the customer and the recipient feel great. People love to make other people feel happy, and I think everyone really appreciates recognition.”

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Walsh College
Located in: Troy
Founded: 1922
Employees: 259
Budget: NA

Mervyn B. Walsh, an accountant with Thomas Edison Light Co., founded the Walsh Institute of Accountancy in 1922 and gave his first lecture that September to 23 students on the sixth floor of what was the Capitol Theatre along Broadway Street in the central business district. Eight years later, Walsh student Grace Wimmer became the first woman to receive a certified public accountant designation.

By the end of World War II, the need for accountants increased rapidly. With the advent of the GI Bill, which provided federal funds to veterans to help pay for schooling, Walsh’s enrollment nearly tripled.

Archie Waring, a 1929 graduate of Walsh College who stayed with the school for 43 years helps a student in 1930. // Photo courtesy of Walsh College

By the 1960s, Walsh’s certificate of accounting was no longer enough for prospective employers, who preferred to hire accountants with bachelor’s degrees. To remain competitive, the institution needed to adapt and became a degree-granting college.

In 1968, three years after Mervyn Walsh stepped down as president and CEO, the institute changed its educational mission and became the Walsh College of Accountancy and Business Administration. The institution was now an upper division college offering coursework and degrees for juniors and seniors who have completed two years at a community college or four years at a college or university. Prior to the move to Troy in 1970, the school was located in the Capitol Theater building in downtown Detroit, now the home of Detroit Opera.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, Walsh College today offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in marketing, management, human resource management, finance, accounting, data analytics, information technology, and cybersecurity. It also offers a STEM MBA and an MBA that focuses on organizational resilience.

Mervy T. Walsh and his son, Mark, at the Troy campus in 1974. // Photo courtesy of Waslsh College
Mervyn T. Walsh and his son, Mark, at the Troy campus in 1974. // Photo courtesy of Walsh College

In addition, students can earn a double master’s in an accelerated time frame by enrolling in a unique dual-degree pathway. Walsh College also offers a doctor of business administration (DBA), and has several non-degree certificate and continuing education options.

With a current enrollment of around 1,200 students, Walsh College has become internationally known for its practical approach to business and technology education. Last year, when the college turned 100, Suzy Siegle became its ninth president and CEO.

“A large part of what sets us apart is that many of our students are working professionals eager to learn skills they can immediately apply to make a positive impact in the business world,” Siegle says. “Combine that with the fact that our faculty are practitioner-instructors who have experience in their teaching fields, and we have a best-of-both-worlds approach.”
As a pioneer in online learning dating back to the 1990s, Walsh was uniquely positioned to successfully fulfill its mission during the pandemic. Even before the world shut down, half of Walsh’s students were online learners.

To further address students’ particular needs, the college’s forward-looking DREAM Committee, led by COO Tom Petz, created Connected Classrooms. These specially equipped learning spaces utilize state-of-the-art Zoom technology that allows for seamless interaction between on-campus and remote students. “Our students are busy professionals balancing work, life, and school. It’s important to us that they don’t sacrifice the quality of their education for the flexibility they need,” Petz says.

Of late, cybersecurity has become one of the most popular and growing business technology curriculums at Walsh College. Students in Walsh’s cybersecurity programs, recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense programs, get hands-on experience with the latest tools, techniques, and strategies for dealing with threats in a state-of-the-art cyber lab.

“Our industry-aligned cybersecurity and technical programs have drawn international attention and (receive) high national rankings,” says Dave Schippers, chief administrative officer and associate professor of automotive cybersecurity. “Our expansion with data analytics and data science are key areas that align market need with more real-world education for career success.”

Walsh College's lobby as it stands today. // Photo courtesy of Walsh College
Walsh College’s lobby as it stands today. // Photo courtesy of Walsh College

During its centennial celebration, the institution unveiled a three-year, $7.5-million Walsh College Forward capital campaign coordinated with a strategic plan to advance the college’s commitment to increasing access and affordability for students, and expanding business and technology education through innovative learning.

“Walsh College has always been a resilient institution capable of adapting and innovating throughout its history,” Siegle says. “Now, as a business and technology college, we’re looking to develop a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship while further enhancing our students’ learning experiences.”

Although Siegle’s title is president and CEO, she prefers to think of herself as the Chief Champion of Walsh College, as she and her team work to move the school into its next 100 years and beyond. “Walsh College is the best business and technology college in the world, and we’re proud that many of the most successful and impactful business leaders in metro Detroit are Walsh College graduates.”

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Corden’s Candy Carrousel
Located in: Inkster
Founded: 1918
Employees: 50
Revenue: NA

On one unforgettable day in the late 1960s, 11-year-old Nick Corden stepped into the kitchen at Corden’s Candy Carrousel in Inkster, where he learned a valuable lesson from the owner — his father, Evans.

“He wanted to teach me how to cook caramel, which takes about 45 minutes, and instructed me to keep stirring it and not to walk away because it would burn,” recalls Corden, 65, a former litigation attorney who began working with his father in 2009 before taking over the 105-year-old business upon Evans’ passing in 2014.

“Of course, as a young punk, I walked away and let it burn. I can still see the look on his face every time I make it today from scratch,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s not haunting, but a friendly reminder that I learned my lesson.”

Sam Corden launched Corden's Candy Carrousel in 1918 in Detroit. // Photo courtesy of Corden's Candy Carrousel
Sam Corden launched Corden’s Candy Carrousel in 1918 in Detroit. // Photo courtesy of Corden’s Candy Carrousel

Corden’s Candy Carrousel sells more than 24 hand-crafted chocolates made from decades-old recipes, ranging from turtles and coconut clusters to truffles and sea salt caramels. The business, likely the oldest family-owned chocolatier in metro Detroit, regularly receives five-star reviews from loyal customers, like the following one from Cece F. of Clinton Township: “This candy is probably the best that I have ever eaten. I guess when you use quality ingredients and make them by hand, you really do get a great product.”

In 1918, Nick’s grandfather, Sam Corden, a Greek immigrant, started the business with his cousin, Gus, on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. Later, they moved down the street next to the Senate Theater, where moviegoers and generations of Detroiters gorged on handmade chocolates and ice cream at the Senate Sweet Shop.

Just as Nick did decades later, Sam’s son, Evans, often would help his father out at the confectionary store.

After graduating with an accounting degree and working for one year as an accountant at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Evans decided that corporate life wasn’t as sweet as making and selling handmade chocolate with his dad. By the early 1950s, Sam retired, moved to Florida, and turned the keys over to his son. To stay current on industry trends, Evans began attending chocolate school twice a year in Pennsylvania, while creating his own chocolate recipes.

Corden's produces 24 different hand-crafted chocolates from decades-old recipes. // Photo courtesy of Corden's Candy Carrousel
Corden’s produces 24 different hand-crafted chocolates from decades-old recipes. // Photo courtesy of Corden’s Candy Carrousel

In a 1981 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Evans said: “When I was younger, I smelled so sweet that my kids wanted to crawl in bed with me every night.”

By the mid-1960s, Corden decided to open a second chocolate shop, named Corden’s Candy Carrousel, 20 miles west on Michigan Avenue in Inkster. Due to rising crime rates in Detroit, by the end of the decade Corden closed the Senate Sweet Shop.

Like his father, Evans, who left a professional career to work in the chocolate business with his dad, Nick walked away from a 25-year insurance defense litigation practice to help his dad run the shop after his mother, Maria, suddenly died on Valentine’s Day in 2009 while working at the store.

“My dad was devastated when she died, and I knew I could shock some life into him if we worked together,” Corden says. “We had a lot of good days for five years before he died, but I wish I had asked him more questions because I had to learn a lot by trial and error, including learning how to fix some of these machines that date back to my grandfather’s time. That first year was a tough transition from being in court to suddenly working 12 hours in a kitchen every day.”

Corden says he makes half the money he made as an attorney and works even longer hours (“typically 10 to 12 hours, seven days a week, from Halloween through New Year’s”), while noting that he would be unable to maintain the business without his wife’s teaching salary.

Nick Corden runs the business now. It's based in Inkster. // Photo courtesy of Corden's Candy Carrousel
Nick Corden runs the business now. It’s based in Inkster. // Photo courtesy of Corden’s Candy Carrousel

Like his grandfather and father, however, the reward of making delicious chocolate products and pleasing customers makes up for all the hard work.

“With law, someone is always going away unhappy, but with a chocolate shop that’s not the case,” Corden says. “I’ve also learned to love the kitchen. We’re not a mass-produced chocolate factory. People tell us our products have a unique taste and texture that you don’t normally find.”

Although he ships boxes of chocolates out of state and overseas to loyal customers, Corden doesn’t advertise or use e-commerce; rather, he relies on word-of-mouth advertising.

“Otherwise, I would never be able to keep up with the demand and maintain the quality,” he says.

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Faygo
Located in: Detroit
Founded: 1907
Employees: 300-400
Revenue: NA

Among the iconic businesses created in Detroit that have become synonymous with the Motor City, one of the most popular has been Faygo, the soft drink beverage company founded 116 years ago in 1907 by Russian immigrant bakers Ben and Perry Feigenson.

Their company, Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works, began on Benton Street south of today’s Detroit Medical Center. While they mostly processed lager beer and soda water, the innovative duo started adding cake frosting flavors to soda water and delivered their new product to customers from a horse-drawn wagon.

The “soda pop” became so popular, the business relocated to a larger building on nearby Beaubien Street. By 1921, the company was rebranded as Faygo, primarily because Feigenson Brothers Bottle Works didn’t fit on the labels.

1907 Faygo delivery truck
Faygo got its start in Detroit back in 1907. // Photo courtesy of Faygo

The ever-expanding bottling works moved to its current location at 3579 Gratiot Ave. in 1935, and by the mid-1940s the Feigenson brothers turned Faygo over to their sons. Today, Faygo still is primarily produced at the Gratiot plant, and more than 50 flavors are sold throughout the United States and parts of Canada. One to three new flavors — or throwbacks —are introduced annually.

While Faygo doesn’t specifically disclose their employee count, according to Dawn Burch, Faygo’s marketing director, “It’s been reported in various published articles that, ‘depending on the season, employment at the Detroit plant ranges between 300 and 400 people,’ while the company historically continues to practice recruiting and hiring from local Detroit neighborhoods.

“I think the secret of our success has been our unique and extensive flavor line and the multigenerational consumer loyalty it garners,” adds Burch, a native of metro Detroit who grew up drinking Faygo.

“There are very few regional soft drink brands that have stood the test of time in the original market in which they started, but Detroit-area consumers have a strong nostalgia for the brand, as they grew up drinking it and continue to introduce it to the next generation. Faygo’s continuing philosophy is centered around the support of our local community by manufacturing here and hiring locally.”

Old-fashioned Faygo logo

Faygo’s popularity began to grow and expand outside of Michigan in the 1950s, after company chemists were able to extend the products’ shelf life. Expansion continued thanks to the introduction of diet soda and aggressive marketing advertising campaigns on radio, television, and during Detroit Tigers baseball broadcasts.

The company has had a number of memorable ads, including the animated and award-winning spots featuring a fictional cowboy, “The Faygo Kid.” Later, the nostalgic tune “Remember When You Were A Kid,” also known as the “Faygo Boat Song,” was introduced; to this day, its chorus is still stuck in many heads: “Remember when you were a kid? Well, part of you still is, and that’s why we make Faygo.”

“From a marketing standpoint, the song has truly stood the test of time. We even recorded it within the past 10 years to satisfy consumer demand,” says Burch, who notes that it’s commonplace to find customers singing the song to Faygo employees wherever they go.

In 1986, TreeSweet Products Corp. acquired Faygo from the Feigenson family for a reported $105 million and a year later, Faygo was sold to its current owner, Florida-based National Beverage Corp. According to Burch, although National Beverage has annual revenue in excess of $1 billion, it doesn’t disclose revenues for its individual brands.

Perhaps surprisingly, Faygo has received worldwide attention within the rap music world for more than a decade as performing artists have frequently included references to Faygo in their lyrics — likely most famously the Detroit rap duo Insane Clown Posse, who drink the soda onstage before showering their fans with the sugary liquid.

Above, bottle designs from the 1950s through the 1980s.

According to lyrics.com, more than 130 songs include the word Faygo.

In 2020, the Seattle rapper Lil Mosey’s song “Blueberry Faygo” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Since then, the song has easily surpassed 1 billion streams on Spotify. It’s also become the rapper’s signature song.

It’s probably no coincidence that last year, for a limited run in Michigan, Faygo brought back for the first time in over 15 years “Jazzin’ BluesBerry.”

“We’re fortunate that Faygo fans are passionate about our brand and often incorporate it into pop culture, including music,” Burch says.

So, of all the current Faygo flavors, what are the biggest sellers?

“Our most popular are Redpop and Rock & Rye, which continue to be our flagship flavors (and most popular in Michigan),” Burch says. “However, outside of Michigan, Orange, Cola, Crème Soda, and Moon Mist lead the way. Our newest flavor, Firework, is currently the leader in small bottles. As for me, it’s Rock & Rye — and Arctic Sun.”

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