bagel maker machine candy maker machine：We’re Crazy for Candy
When my kids were little, Saturday was candy day. I’d give each of my three boys a small cupful with a word of advice: they could eat it all at once or savor it slowly. Today, they still love candy. It’s in their genes. They get it from me.
It’s no wonder that candy sales jumped in 2020: When life takes a sudden and disastrous turn, a piece of chocolate, a lollipop, or peanut brittle transports us to a more innocent time, when happiness was just a jelly bean away.
It’s a simple fact that candy makes people happy. And for five Virginia entrepreneurs, they’re in the candy-making business because it brings meaning to their lives. There’s a sweet connection between the maker and the customer, and there’s love in that relationship.
These folks are survivors. And while none pose a threat to that other Virginia-based candy giant, Mars—makers of M&Ms, Snickers, and Skittles, whose global headquarters is located in McLean— these makers are providing jobs and helping to sustain us during uncertain times with a lemon drop of sunshine or a nutty nougat of chewy goodness.
David Shalloway: C-ville Candy
When I enter David Shalloway’s candy factory near Charlottesville, my mouth waters. Stacks of nonpareils in a rainbow of colors and trays of chocolate bark call my name. The heady, tropical scent of cocoa wafts through the air from a vat of liquid chocolate that is tempering. A genial fellow in his early 60s, Shalloway welcomes me with a big smile. He lives, breathes, thinks, designs, creates, quantifies, dreams, and, yes, eats candy. Like the nonpareils he makes, he’s one-of-a-kind with an enthusiasm for life that matches his love for candy. But he’s proudest of his team—Chris, Sherri, and Rebecca—who help him make and pack C-Ville’s candy. “They’re like my family,” he says.
Shalloway started selling his orange-cashew-honey brittle at the Charlottesville Farmers Market in 2014. “A big crowd, all ages, gathered around, elderly, young,” he recalls. “They were all smiles, excited, euphoric at what they were seeing and tasting. Even the older people looked like kids again.”
He’s held a dozen or more jobs—from junk shop owner to roles at companies that made soap and file folders. “I love to work,” he says. With each job, he developed the next set of skills he’d need to run his candy business. The last one allowed him time to perfect his candy recipes. By then, Shalloway was on fire. “Anything I do,” he says, still smiling, “I do absolutely 100 percent.” CvilleCandy.com
Vanessa Beller: A Secret Forest
When I meet “The Lollipop Lady,” she is leaning over a stainless steel table, intently arranging tiny shapes in a mold. “I have to finish this before it sets,” Vanessa Beller says, so I quietly watch this 44-year-old artist at work.
A Secret Forest began in L.A., as a side gig to Beller’s thriving cake and pastry business. “I didn’t even think this was a business,” she says. But after she posted her handcrafted lollipops on Tumblr, the candy went viral. When Beller and her husband moved to Richmond to be closer to family, they continued to grow their business. Today her pops have been featured in Martha Stewart Living, Elle, BuzzFeed, and Brides.com, and they’re shipped all over the world.
Her 5,000 Instagram followers drool over Beller’s creations, which are indeed works of art. Embedded within the clear hard candy are pieces of edible paper in shapes and colors limited only by your imagination—unicorns, hearts, butterflies, even logos—each exquisitely crafted and detailed.
“The flavors are endless,” says Beller, who favors florals like elderflower, jasmine, violet, and rose. Customers create their own insta-pop, choosing the flavors and design. “Everything is made to order.”
When demand grew dramatically, Beller shifted more to wholesale outlets. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the orders,” says Beller, who admits to working seven days a week. When she can, she travels for inspiration, finding it in Spain’s colorful tiles and orange trees. “I get ideas from everywhere.” ASecretForest.Etsy.com, @asecretforest
Sue Charney: Red Rocker Candy
When Sue Charney, 60, decided to go into the candy business, she struggled to come up with a name. She’d recently bought an old rocker at a thrift store and painted it red. Bingo. Red Rocker Candy was born. “It evoked the feeling that I wanted to give people,” she says. “We’re family, front porch.”
That was in 2002. Charney and her husband, Jack, moved to Virginia from California to start their new business after the events of 9/11 made them rethink their paths in life. “I’d been laid off from my job and I started making toffee. My husband took it to work and people couldn’t believe how good it was,” says Charney. “My neighbor asked me to make some for gifts.”
For six years, she made the candy in her basement, selling it in farmers markets and gift stores before the couple decided to build a factory. Around then Jack became ill with leukemia and passed away in 2014. It was a tough time for Charney, who was nursing her husband while trying to grow her business. “But I survived,” she said.
Her candy offerings expanded to include chocolate bark, cashew toffee, and Red Rocker’s top-seller: Rocking Chair Mix, a salty-sweet mix of pretzels, cereal, and almonds coated in white chocolate. She’s a candy fan, too. “When I eat candy, I feel like a kid,” she says. Her other passion is golf, and she plays every weekend.
The pandemic has brought supply chain challenges and price increases, Charney said. The cancellation of many specialty food shows last year reduced the number of orders she normally gets. “But I’m still here,” she says, grinning. “I won’t go away.” RedRockerCandy.com
Marty Cochran: Forbes Candies
“Our candy represents vacations of old and memories,” says Marty Cochran, 44, owner of Forbes Candies, sold in beach towns from Maine to Key West. “It brings people together. Peppermint is Christmas. Taffy is vacation.”
Cochran never planned to be a candymaker. While in college, he took a summer job at a Forbes store on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In 2009, he purchased the business from the Forbes family with a partner, whom he later bought out. Besides their ubiquitous taffy, Forbes makes hand-dipped Easter eggs, fudge, caramels, pecan delights, rocky road, and more.
Valentine’s Day is their third largest holiday behind Christmas and Easter. “The majority of what we sell are assorted chocolate boxes,” he explains. “They come in all shapes and sizes and prices, and everything we put in our boxes is locally produced in Virginia Beach.”
“We do best at taffy,” said Cochran, who hasn’t changed the recipes but has added new flavors, such as blue raspberry and sour watermelon, to keep up with the changing tastes of consumers.
Sales exploded in 2020, Cochran says. “It’s just been nuts.” When they had to shutter their retail locations early on, Cochran began distributing his candies to truck stops, convenience stores, and gas stations across the country. These new distribution outlets helped keep the Forbes factory humming. “We’ve made more candy this year than we’ve ever made.”
Cochran isn’t quite sure why all of a sudden everyone’s crazy about candy, but he does think that candy can be part of a healthy diet. “In order to be healthy, you have to be happy. Candy makes you happy. Makes sense to me,” he says with a smile. ForbesCandies.com
David Williams Williams Candy
David Williams, 68, is focused on the hot liquid candy, spread out on a stainless steel table in his small factory in Chesapeake. “Peach buds, they’re our top seller,” he says, “watch.” Williams spreads coloring around and then divides the candy into three 30-pound mounds, each a different color, which he and his assistant Blake deftly knead.
“You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,” says Williams with a wink and a grin as he lays two large chunks of candy carefully in a machine, tops them with a snowy mass of coconut, and places the last one on top. “Like putting a puzzle together,” he says.
Slowly the giant mass turns round and round, magically melding it into one long cylinder of gold, red, and cream yumminess, which spews from the end of the machine like a colorful snake, to be broken into their signature candy at the end of the line. “It’s a workout,” Williams says.
He’s a third-generation candymaker. His grandfather started the business, his mom currently owns it, and Williams runs it along with his sister, other family members, and a small staff. “We’re her worker elves.”
Besides peach buds, they make old-fashioned hard candy in flavors like banana, cinnamon, and fruit, to name a few. “I believe in quality. If you get the quality right, people will keep coming,” Williams says. “You gotta take pride in what you do.”
Williams Candy Company distributes to grocery stores, candy stores, and outlets. Business has been skyrocketing lately. “You gotta love it,” he says. “If you don’t, there ain’t no need to be here.” He likes to entertain people and welcomes customers to stop by the factory to see candy being made. “If you get your customers laughing, you’ve done your job,” he says. “You made their day.” Call 757-545-9311.
This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue.
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