MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — On a warm August day, behind The Original Murdick’s Fudge Shop, I have the privilege to sit down with Carnel Samuels on Mackinac Island.
Samuels is somewhat of a local celebrity on the island. Many people call him the “Fudge Master.”
Knowing this, I had to ask, “Do you make the best fudge?”
With a smirk and a glance down, Samuels confidently replies; “Oh absolutely, without a doubt. That’s a no brainer.”
Samuels' boss, Bob Benser, is the owner of Original Murdick’s Fudge.
Benser calls Samuels the backbone of the company. Samuels has worked at the shop for 17 years this summer.
As Samuels tells us, “Bobbie came to Jamaica, and he was recruiting workers. I was there, and for some reason he chose me. I’ve been here ever since.”
Samuels is now a U.S. citizen, but he originally came to the Mackinac Island, like hundreds before and after him, as a J-1 Worker.
A J-1 worker comes to the U.S. as a work- or study-based exchange visitor.
Samuels says it’s an amazing opportunity for people from Jamaica. “A lot of people come here and make a lot of money so they can go back home and build houses. So, it's way better here than home.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it’s an opportunity that doesn’t exist this summer.
“President Trump signed a proclamation to temporarily suspend their travel to work, so, as a result of that, we had to scramble,” explains Benser.
Mackinac Island open to tourists over a month late due to COVID-19. The island's J-1 workers couldn’t make it to work, and many U.S. workers opted not to show up during the pandemic. However, the tourists definitely did show up.
“It’s been a crazy busy summer, it’s unbelievable. More than we ever dreamed,” Samuels tells us.
“We're seeing people come from all over the country," notes Benser. "Texas, Florida, and a lot of them are driving.”
It’s a sticky situation found in tourist towns across America.
So what’s a fudge shop to do?
Murdick’s called in their reinforcements, the reinforcements being three of the crazy Benser siblings, a spouse, and three of their kids.
“Well, we’re all getting along great, so that’s surprising!” laugh's Bob Benser’s sister, Heidi.
This is the first summer since they were kids that three Benser children have been in Murdick’s Fudge, getting down and dirty, working together.
“It’s hard to nail us down as to when to get here and when to start working," says another sister, Amy Benser-Irish. "So, to just have to do it, and stay in it because they needed our help, was great.”
These fudge icons, like the rest of us during this pandemic, are making it work.
It’s what they say their father, Bob Benser Sr., affectionately called “Mr. B,” raised them to do. “Ultimately, this is what my dad loves is to see all of us back together,” explains Heidi. “So that's probably the biggest thing that feels great about doing this, is that he feels like this is wonderful. He's really proud of us.”
Original Murdick’s Fudge is hiring for the remainder of the season. Currently, their workers start at $12 an hour, with free housing and free meals.