This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In 1917, electric streetcars and gasoline-powered Buicks, Dodge Brothers and Chevrolet sedans lined the busy streets of downtown Salt Lake City. On the corner of Broadway and State streets, Auerbach's display windows wowed strolling pedestrians with the newest in fashion from above-the-ankle tiered skirts and walking suits to poke bonnets and French-heeled shoes.
And atop the old Walker Bank building, cascading neon lights flared like bejeweled water fountains announcing Sweet Candy Co.'s distribution "from Alaska to Australia."
"That my grandfather happened to get into the candy business and that our last name was Süss, which is German for Sweet, is purely coincidental," third-generation candy maker Tony Sweet told me some time back.
In the late 1840s, Tony's great-grandfather Simon and Simon's brother Saul left Germany for New York and Chicago. When gold was discovered near Sutter's Mill in California in 1848, the Jewish immigrants headed west to sell merchandise to miners in the Aqua Fria mining camps of Mariposa County. Later, they moved south to Visalia, Calif., opened a mercantile store, and settled down to raise their families.
Simon's son Leon was a teenager when he struck out on his own. Funded by Mr. Saroni, a financial backer and entrepreneur in the sugar and rice business, the 19-year-old was sent to Portland, Ore.
In 1892, he opened the original Sweet Candy Co. and, joined by his brother Arthur, satisfied the sweet tooth with lollipops, jawbreakers and licorice candies. Eight years later, the company moved to 15 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City.
"They probably came to Utah because of the ready supply of sugar beets," said Tony and Utah's love affair with sweets. In 1900, more than 800 Utah farmers grew sugar beets for Utah Sugar Co. By 1902, Amalgamated Sugar processed about 100,000 tons of sugar beets annually into nearly 10,000 tons of sugar.
In 1910, when Tony's father Leon known as Jack was born, the company moved to 224 S. 200 West, doubled in size, then did it again. Candymaking is a competitive business requiring ample space, custom machinery, wide distribution, transportation and science.
Early on, Arthur delivered goods in a horse-drawn wagon. Corn syrup came by railway and chocolate was made from scratch. Between 1911 and 1920, 175 employees were on the payroll many adept at hand-dipping chocolates.
"To make cordial cherries," Tony explained, "women started with a cherry dipped into fondant , the creamy sugar paste that is the basic building block of candy. After it set up, the cream-covered cherry was hand-dipped into chocolate, causing a chemical reaction. The acid in the cherry would break down the fondant almost entirely, turning it into a semi-liquid."
Caramel was poured onto six-foot slabs, run through a cutter and sliced into squares or oblong shapes. "Machines would wrap individual candies in waxed paper. People would bundle them in a wicker tray, starting on the outside and working toward the center," Tony said. "It was a beautiful packing process set in hand-made wooden boxes embossed with our name."
Amid an opulence of chocolates and nuts, hard candy and jellied confections, Leon made a strategic business decision in the late summer of 1920. He took on taffy.
Before air conditioning, there were few options for storing, transporting or keeping chocolate from melting. Most candy makers would delay chocolate production. Sales would fall flat and workers would leave.
"But saltwater taffy doesn't easily melt in the heat," Tony said. "So my grandfather developed saltwater taffy for summer production and to keep our work force stable."
In 1936, when Jack added egg whites to the taffy mix, sales soared.
After 120 years, and with more than 300 varieties of kosher-certified American-made candies and confections (including chocolate-covered orange sticks), a fourth generation continues to lead one of the oldest family-owned candy companies and largest manufacturers of saltwater taffy in the United States.
Don't take my word for it. Take a tour.