Sweet times: Selected moments in WNY candy history
Buffalo has a long history of candymaking. Spree's editor-in-chief Elizabeth Licata assembled this timeline of important events in our chocolate-loving past.
An announcement in the Niagara Patriot informs the populace that confectionery can be purchased at J. Guiteau’s grocery on Niagara Street. At this time, candy offerings consisted largely of stick candy, sugar plums (a sugar-coated mixture of dried fruits and nuts), and molasses-based hard candy.
A revolving pan device makes it easier to mass-produce various types of confectionery in bulk. Well-known candy manufacturers in Buffalo include John Benson and Co., and Franklin Heth. Chocolate candy was rare throughout the nineteenth century; hard candy was the type most commonly manufactured and sold by the pound.
Wholesaler confectioner Albert Ly moves machinery from his factory into his store at 301 Main Street and invites patrons in to see how candies are made. “This is an opportunity frequently desired but NEVER BEFORE OFFERED,” boasts his advertisement in the Buffalo Express. A five pound box of mixed candies can be purchased for $1.
(Buffalo Express, 1/1/1877)
The New Genesee Candy Store at 532 Main Street advertises that it has coconut cakes, fresh ribbon candy, and Boston chips. Boston chips, said to be invented in Boston in 1876, are very thin strips of tinted sugar candy, cooled on a marble slab, pulled on a hook, and run through metal rollers.
(Buffalo Daily Courier, 2/14/1883)
The conversation heart is invented when it becomes possible to print on candy. The Buffalo Evening News speculates that “it may have been the candy heart or the conversation lozenge that founded many a Buffalo home.”
George Kaiser founds Parkside Candy. The business moves to Main and Winspear (out in the country) in 1927. The vacuum cooker that makes lollipop mixtures and the chocolate molding equipment still used at Parkside dates from this era. The company is purchased by the Buffamante family in 1981.
August E. Merckens, considered the dean of the chocolate industry, purchases the Reed Chocolate Factory at Jersey and Seventh Streets, and incorporates it under his name in 1921 as Merckens Chocolate Company, Inc. Over 100 branch offices are established in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and many other cities, in addition to the Buffalo headquarters. Merckens’ professional activities expand well beyond chocolate; also in 1920, he writes a pamphlet proposing a “close union of the people and nations of Europe.” (He had developed a patent for an airplane that is stabilized by balloons in 1911.) Merckens died at his Summer Street home in 1937.
Quaker Bonnet Sweet Shop (at Elmwood and Bryant) offers boxed Valentine’s Day assortments containing their “matchless” crystallized mints, cream-centered chocolates, and nut-filled chocolates. For only 85¢, the shop will sell you a chocolate-covered nut and fruit heart decorated with candied violets, roses, and apple blossoms. This tea room and bakery (founded in 1932 by Harold Hayes) is the ancestor of the Quaker Bonnet restaurant now located on Allen Street.
Niagara Chocolates is founded by John Terranova and is first known as Niagara Candy & Ice Cream. The company is well-known for providing chocolate to nonprofit and charitable fundraisers. In 2002, Niagara Chocolates merges with two other companies, Whetstone Candy and Oakleaf confections, and becomes Sweetworks, which is now known as one of the leading molders of chocolate worldwide.
Tomric Systems, one of the country’s largest producers of commercial-quality chocolate molds is started in Buffalo by manufacturer Paul Elsinghurst (who claims he can “eat chocolate or leave it alone”). Unusual premade molds include a cell phone, an alligator, a chalice, and a cement mixer, among the nearly 3,000 molds available. Tomric molds are both custom and premade.
The Merckens Chocolate Company is purchased by the Welch Candy Company, and operations are moved to Mansfield, Massachsetts. The company changes hands a few times, winding up (in 1997) as a brand of global giant Archer Daniels Midland. Merckens chocolate is known throughout the U.S. as a high quality melting chocolate and is used by countless confectioners and chocolatiers. Chocolatiers cite the ease of working with Merckens as one of the many qualities that make it desirable.
Reporter Libby Maeder extolls Antoinette’s chocolate covered potato chips: “Never mind what the egg lobby says. Chocolate potato chips are the world's most perfect food: a salty, crunchy chip (do we detect Pringles?) coated on one side with creamy milk chocolate.”
Choco-Logo reports that seventy-five percent of its product goes to companies outside the Buffalo area. Fowler’s makes a chocolate bar in the shape of the Guaranty Building for law firm Hodgson Russ. Watson’s makes thousands of chocolate business cards for Buffalo Ultrasound.
Watson’s sponge candy is featured on the Food Network’s Kid in a Candy Store, hosted by Adam Gertler, who visits the store’s Tonawanda production facility for a two-day shoot. The episode airs on February 21.