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Meet the Family Behind Garden Gate Chocolate, Utah’s Holiday Tradition

Helen Vanderlinden

SALT LAKE CITY — Here near the intersection of 9th and 9th in Salt Lake City, the signs of progress are everywhere.

For Helen Vanderlinden, this is nothing new. For more than 75 years, she’s been the matriarch of Garden Gate Chocolate — more than a staple, it’s an icon.

It all started in the 1940s, the middle of World War Two.

“And my husband came home from work and said, ‘I just bought an ice cream store.’ And I was flabbergasted,” Helen says.

Sugar cost a fortune back then, so instead: “He said, ‘Maybe we’ll do some chocolates.’ Well I had never seen chocolates made before.”

Helen started making toffee, and it’s some of the best you’ll ever have. In fact, at 94 years old, she’s still making it today.

Her grandson Josh Plumb is now the third-generation family member peddling confections to the masses.

That is, of course, if you can find them.

“The business model defies all logic, it’s like, I don’t…I don’t know how it works,” Josh says. “They’ve never been in the phone book, never been on the internet, we don’t even have a website. We don’t have anything. Just a phone that turns on in November and a phone that turns off in December, that’s it.”

That’s right. Garden Gate, and their famous toffee, the caramels, the clusters, the chocolates that have become a holiday tradition for so many, is only open two months of out of the year.

“We start in mid-October making the candy and then we open up on the first of November,” Helen says.

Trouble is with all the customers who come back year after year, they usually run out of candy before Christmas.

“We’ll probably make it to the 15th or so.”

Meaning there is literally a shelf life to their product.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

In the age of online ordering, two-day shipping, social media and websites — all the progress — people always ask why Garden Gate isn’t open year round. Why no website, no social media, no phone?

It’s simple really.

“They don’t do it for the money,” Josh says. “They do it because it’s a family tradition that they’ve done for so long.”

A tradition many will find and enjoy as they have for generations.