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Wilson's, San Francisco, California, 1933
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Wilson's, San Francisco, California, 1933 Wilson's, San Francisco, California, 1933 Wilson's, San Francisco, California, 1933

Wilson's, San Francisco, California, 1933


Wilson’s, whose motto was ‘the candy with a college education,’ was a chain of cafes where generations of Stanford and Palo Alto students enjoyed sodas, peach melbas, banana splits, Cokes and sandwiches.

The chain was launched by Ernest ‘Sticky’ Wilson in the early 1900s.

Born in Salem, Oregon, Ernest Wilson entered Stanford University in California in 1896 and took a part-time job in Rice’s candy store (located in a field under a tree on campus between the Quad and Encina where the Stanford Library is now) during his freshman year. A jovial and popular character, he was soon nicknamed ‘Sticky’ Wilson because of his sweet tooth and diligent work ethic. Within a year, he had bought out the two owners. After graduating in 1900, ‘Sticky’ closed his tiny shop and went to San Francisco to learn the candy trade, starting at the bottom as an employee with a large manufacturer.

 He returned to Palo Alto and opened his own candy factory and store specializing in chocolates with distinctive names such as ‘university.’ ‘co-ed,’ ‘Leland Stanford,’( the founder of Stanford University and a former Governor of California) and ‘college maid,’ He also adopted the clever slogan ‘’the candy with a college education’ for his products. Sticky’ expanded his business and eventually operated eleven stores, three in San Francisco, three in Oakland and the rest in Palo Alto, Fresno, Stockton, Sacramento and Vallejo, helped by his son Howard’ Sticky’ Wilson.

They were models of sanitation, comfort and convenience for their era, each with their own kitchens, dining rooms and parlors. There was steam heat in winter and a washed-air cooling system in summer. ‘Sticky’ continued to innovate with his policy of recruiting a manager for each store from the ranks of employees, saying it wasn’t necessary to go outside the company for senior people. He told a local author in 1922: ‘I have never tried to run a store like everyone else. Originality is a big asset. If we make a chocolate that is particularly good, we have one of our sales ladies demonstrate it in our store, giving samples to everyone. The success that I have had is due very largely to a corps of loyal employees. It has been my policy to give responsibility to heads of departments and demand results. I don’t try to do all the work myself.’

The Wilson’s chain and its ‘candy with a college education’ appears to have closed in the early 1950s and ‘Sticky ’died in San Francisco in 1967 at the age of 90, some 70 years after he opened his first store.

Note:  a Stanford Queener, mentioned in this 1933 menu, was slang for a student who courted women.

Courtesy Private Collection.

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