Smith Candies develops taste for chocolate

ST. MARYS – Fifteen years ago Mike and Julie Smith ventured into the business world with the purchase of Susan Kay Candy.

Today Susan Kay Candy is still making hard candy and lollipops, but it is also known as Smith Candies and has moved from its location on 33rd Street in Parkersburg to downtown St. Marys in the former Western Auto Building at the corner of Second and Main streets.

They bought the business from Howard and Vera Holcomb 15 years ago and to some extent they make the candy the same way it was made when the Holcombs started in 1952.

Smith said the move brought the business closer to where they live and it allowed them to add a new aspect to the business.

“We did it for economic reasons and a chance to get back to a community,” he said. “In Parkersburg we were just a manufacturing facility.”

Smith said since the move they now live five minutes from their business instead of having to drive from St. Marys to Parkersburg. When they bought the company, Smith worked for Goldsmit-Black in Vienna where he was the warehouse manager. Sometimes he made the trip twice a day.

“For us owning a business there it was not a case of us going down there together,” he said. “My wife would have to go at one time and I’d be there another.”

Smith said the new facility in St. Marys is set up where they can give tours and the public can see them making the candy and interact with them as they make it. He added the new location allows them to make direct sales to the public and expand their offerings.

“We had really good seasonal sales and the retail traffic is picking up,” he said. “When we moved up here it allowed us to experiment more with chocolates and few other things.”

During the Christmas season Smith said they turn out candy canes in different flavors and colors from the traditional red and white to blue and white or green and white.

Valentine’s is a big time for Smith Candies both with their main hard candy business and their newest product, chocolate.

“We will be very busy then, we are now taking orders for chocolate-covered strawberries and our boxes of chocolates,” he said. “That segment of the business has grown substantially.”

Smith said they are new to the public retail aspect of the business but they are learning.

“That is an ever-evolving part of our business,” he said. “We learn a little bit more each year.”

“Our cut rock or hard rock candy seems to stay quite steady through the year.”

Smith said they continue to sell on their own to 70 grocery, convenience and gift shops. Over the years they have picked up a few distributors.

“We have a distributor in Wayne County that sells to 150 stores,” he said. “So we have West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and south east Ohio covered.”

Smith added he has a distributor in Pittsburgh and recently picked up a distributor in North Carolina.

“We do a private label for them,” he said. “We are working on a private label with another company.”

Recently, Smith said they had a distributor at a food show in Seattle and they have received orders from that area.

“It’s kind of a big deal for us to head out to the west coast,” he said. “It’s nice to get out to another part of the country. Our distributor there said he had a couple of customers who will be taking it to Alaska – which is kind of cool.”

However he said the biggest volume seller of their candy is the Tamarack near Beckley along the West Virginia Turnpike.

“They are a good account for us,” he said. “We are currently, and have been for some time, the highest volume vendor in there. It’s affordable and colorful and fortunately we are right at the door where all the food items are located.”

Since Tamarack also services the rest area, so that gives their product two more outlets. He said their new fudge product has been approved for sale there.

Smith said some of the equipment they use is quite old. One example was the table where they turn the candy before rolling the candy, it dates back to 1883.

“A lot of our equipment is old, but not as old as that.,” he said. “The equipment for making candy has not changed that much.”

Smith said the company has recently acquired the rights and recipes to a candy that was made for may years in the Clarksburg area.

“We bought Wolfe’s Railroad Sticks, a candy stick with coconut in the middle with a vanilla-flavored cover,” he said. “It was very popular in the 1940s through the early 1970s.

Smith said just before they finalized the purchase of Wolfe’s Railroad Sticks he had a customer ask for them.

“She said her Dad bought them for her when she was a child,” he said. “When I told her we were buying the rights and would be making them soon she just stood here and cried.”

Smith said they are unique in the confection business.

“As far the hard candy manufacturing goes I’m it,” he said. “We feel God has blessed this business to allow us to operate it for this amount of time – that’s an important part of our mission.”

Smith said the company has six employees and they produce 100,000 pounds of the cut rock candy and lollipops each year. It’s all by hand, Smith said, with some machines to roll the candy and to cut into the small pieces.

“It’s all hand made, no two pieces are the same,” he said. “This is our staple right here.”

Smith said the hard candy is made in 20 flavors. He said they have learned the flavor preferences can change from place to place.

“From county to county or town to town the flavor preferences are different,” he said. “Cinnamon and hot cinnamon constitute 50 percent of our business.”