Annabelle Candy Company

Annabelle Candy CompanyHere’s one of those, WOW! I didn’t know that! things that happens to me every once in awhile. Some friends were talking about candy we all ate as kids and one name that came up was the Big Hunk. It turns out that was made by the Annabelle Candy Company that started in San Francisco in 1950 and moved to Haward, CA in 1964.

If you’re from around San Francisco you may remember the super sweet peanut-y Big Hunk. It turns out the secret ingredient that gave it its taste was honey which is funny because while I loved Big Hunk bars, I hate honey in most forms. The company was founded by Russian immigrant Sam Altshuler in 1950 and was named after his daughter Annabelle. The Annabelle Candy Company also has the distinction of being the only independently owned candy company able to work on a large scale. If that’s not impressive enough they have even gone solar, expecting to save over $125,000/year or over $6.5 million over the next 25 years just on the energy savings.

Big Hunk is not their only candy though, they also make Rocky Road, Abba-Zabba, Look and Uno candy bars [note: Microwaving a Big Hunk for 3-5 seconds or freezing a Uno bar is like receiving communion from the devil. You’ve got to try it]. They aren’t that hard to find in and around San Francisco as they are still made today, but if you’re having trouble finding them or you moved away you can order them online and have them shipped. Oh did I forget to mention that they regularly run contests on their facebook site giving away their candy?

If you want to see how a small candy company makes their bars that turn a big profit watch the video below.

Alkhemy Khandy The Pop Up That Never Was…

I’ve had an interest in food trucks and pop up food businesses and got a silly idea in my head that maybe I could do this. San Francisco is a big place for foodies and since we don’t have two million people the big chefs won’t come here [a quote from Anthony Bourdain], but that gives the little guys a chance or so I thought.

Well the first thing I noticed was that if you’re going to start a pop up selling food products you have to have everything prepared like you’ve been in business for 20 years. You need to develop the logo, make t-shirts, print business cards, etc all before you actually figure out what you’re going to be selling so you can get money from people in a crowd funding start up site like Kickstarter.

I’m still kind of old school and I knew I had a thing for making candy and I was quite good at it, but the idea of making t-shirts and stickers before I even knew if I had a market was a bit much. I tend to be a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen while at the same time there was always a certain art to what I did. I wanted something that I could turn over easily and that would transport easily and so I decided that out of my candy recipes I’d start with caramels. So I came up with a cool logo and phrase for the business. I could have done fudge or toffee, but those seemed kind of one dimensional to me. Fudge and Toffee are always just that they aren’t a base you can build on which caramels that are a basis of sugar, corn syrup and milk work very well with. I started with the fleur de sel caramels because they were the easiest to make then my mind started thinking outside the box and I came up with the following caramels:

1. Fleur de sel
2. Chocolate/Coconut caramels [vegan]
3. Bourbon & Black Pepper
4. Jolly Rogers [coconut and rum, but I needed a new name to avoid trademark issues]
5. Bacon & Maple syrup [yes, you read that right]

I made them all and they were great. The few people who sampled them loved them and wanted more and there is where the problem started. I did my homework while testing my recipes and found the best price to purchase the ingredients. I could even use agave nectar instead of sugar and corn syrup because it’s a natural invert sugar and would stay smooth and not grainy, but the key factor was in the kitchen and time.

I could crank out a batch in about an hour, but the problem was I could only crank out about 3lbs at a time and then I’d have to clean the pots while the caramels were setting so I could realistically only crank out about 12lbs a week given that I was making them at home and had to find time in between my daughter being at school, keeping the house clean and other things let alone going somewhere to sell them.

While I was thinking this I was looking at what other people were selling homemade caramels for and it was anywhere from $10-$25/pound. At this amount that would mean I would be able to earn between $120-$300/week if I sold them all. I also happened to run across an article about struggling pop up food businesses and one in particular caught me by surprise. It was a couple of women who where making homemade pies and selling them for $35 each. I don’t know about you, but that better be one really good pie for $35. I can get a decent pie for $6 and a pie for $10 that will have people asking for seconds, but what is going to make a $35 pie that special? Likewise, the only thing about my caramels that could justify say a $20/lb price would be what I was putting into them.

Then there was the fact that I’d have to sell that much every week to earn a below minimum wage income from it. In the end I’ve lived too long to earn that little, so I’ve had to put the idea of a candy pop up business on the side for now. That doesn’t mean I won’t be making my caramels anymore. I’ll still make some and have them around most of the time because you never know when someone is going to come by. They’ll also make nice end of the year gifts for the people who help us out because they’ll remember a pound of bourbon and black pepper caramels longer than a Starbucks gift card.

Let’s Go To The Movies!

The Parkside TheaterFor some reason this popped into my mind over the weekend and I had to see if I could dig anything up on this, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when I was a young pup the elementary schools at the end of the school year would sell matinee tickets to your local movie theater for a Tuesday or Wednesday showing and each movie ticket cost 15¢. You would buy enough to cover you for the summer and once a week your parents would cart you off to the local theater and dump you there for the day. Life was good back then.

I’d like to say 15¢ was worth more back then and I’m sure it was, but this wasn’t breaking anyone’s bank that I remember. A small box of candy, which would be considered large by today’s standards, at my local Parkside Theater was 16¢ [the extra penny was for tax], so getting rid of your kids for a day each week in the summer was worth the price of a candy bar. I don’t know about other theaters at the time, but the Parkside also served ice cream and sandwiches which was a bit odd for back then as they weren’t pre-packaged, but hand scooped and hand made.

As I remember the movies started at around 11am or so and ended around 4-4:30pm. They’d show a cartoon movie and then a live action movie, all kid oriented of course. You could go in and watch Jungle Book followed by Treasure Island and for a little kid having the big screen to share with his friends and not having your parents around was great. Before every movie they showed a few cartoon shorts for the kids with short attention spans to help hold them over through the movie. In between movies they had an intermission which meant time to buy more candy so you could properly fuel your sugar rush for when you came home. I would be sent off with a dollar in my pocket and always get candy, popcorn and a soda and come home with change.

While I only went to the Parkside, I think the summer movie thing was done all around the city. I seem to remember using my tickets at a theater in the Richmond District once or twice because my Mom’s best friend lived there and I’d sometimes go with her kids. It’s kind of hard thinking back to those times because today you’ve got entertainment available from so many different sources. Back then we didn’t have channels to change, I don’t even think we knew what movies they were going to show. I believe the tickets just had the day and the date and 15¢. Maybe the school name was on it because it was probably a way for the schools to add to their coffers.

Now here’s the funny thing, I found out that the Parkside Theater back in those days seated 1329 people, so on a sold out matinee they would make only $199.35 from ticket sales. You couldn’t buy them at the door, you had to get them from your school. Anything extra they got was from selling foods at the snack bar. I’m sure minimum wage was awful back then since the first real job I got was in 1977 and paid $2.20/hour and at that price I bet they could barely cover the cost of the staff if they weren’t selling lots at the snack bar. Working then wasn’t too much fun because if you did something incorrectly they could cut your pay for the day and I’m sure that was over used because in the mid 70’s they made it so you had to be paid for the hours you worked. No one seemed unhappy working at the theaters back then though, but I was only 7 so what did I know.

Those days are gone now with most of the small neighborhood theaters disappearing [the Parkside was a first run theater that got the movies as they came out] and I’m sure we’ll start to see some of the larger theaters disappear as the home screens keep getting bigger and people like to eat less over processed crap that they can make cheaper at home. It’s kind of sad though because it was a very memorable time for me. I haven’t been to a movie theater now in close to ten years, mostly because I can get close to the experience for a fraction of the price without having to walk across sticky floors to sit in an uncomfortable seat and eat junk food that everyone says today will take 10 years off your life, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice those things.

Another San Francisco Treat…Red Vines

Well they aren’t really made in San Francisco, but as I was looking over the ingredients in a bag of Red Vines last night I found they were made in Union City, CA which is in the Bay Area. Out here in the West when you say licorice, everyone thinks Red Vines. As a kid like the rest of us we’d go to the corner liquor store and they’d always tub of them on the counter. When we’d go to the movies, we’d always get a box of Red Vines. I never realized we did it because that was our licorice.

The funniest part is that when I looked at the calories on the bag per two twists I can’t believe never got totally obese eating a whole box as a kid. I do remember having the black Big Twists a few times [my grandmother believe only black licorice was real licorice] and occasionally I might find the Grape Vines, but on visiting the Red Vines site I found that they also make Cherry Vines and Strawberry Vines which I think I remember trying once or twice, but they also made Spearmint Twists, Choco Twists [I remember trying those and I’m glad they pulled them].

They were originally made by the American Licorice Company in Chicago [which is now out here in Union City as well] and set up their West Coast division in 1925 and it’s been there ever since using old school ingredients and none of the chemical garbage you find in your candy today. One of the funny things is that Red Vines after opening here in 1925 actually made a pair of licorice shoes for Charlie Chaplin to wear and eat in his movie Gold Rush.

When I first moved out of the house I sort of went back to my childhood. I was shopping at Costco one day and noticed a big tub just like all the little liquor stores used to have on the counter. I had to get it as a house snack. Oddly enough when friends would come over, no matter what age they would see it, laugh at me then dig into it and sometimes had to be pulled away. I always liked the tubs because they stayed fresher that way. If you cut a bag open and didn’t finish it in a week it became the candy equivalent of civil war hard tack. This has always been my favorite non-chocolate candy, so much so that I’m munching on some twists now as we speak.

My wife and I always have a bag around in our snack basket in our living room. I’m thinking next time we’re at Costco we buy a tub. It’ll keep them fresher and keep from me getting whiplash when I have to bite into a dried out one. Now how many of you remember biting off both ends and using it to drink a coke as a kid? I can remember a few restaurants from years ago that used to serve their cokes to kids that way.

Pink Popcorn: The San Francisco Treat

Pink popcorn was always something I had taken for granted. You would go to the ballpark and get it. You could go to the zoo and get it. Any event that occurred within the Bay Area you would find Wrights pink popcorn. It was like Coke™, where ever you went it was there. What I didn’t realize in my very San Francisco-centric thinking was that it was a San Francisco creation.

Since finding this information I’ve been trying to track down the history of this confection that is taken for granted. I’ve heard stories that the chemicals used to coat the popcorn causes cancer [just like everything else you eat] to it being first made in the 1800’s in San Francisco. I have even called the company that’s located now on Potrero Avenue in the City as well as emailed them, but have yet to hear from them directly.

From Wrights website they mention that they started in the 40’s and that’s as much of a history as I can get about them. I’m not sure who Mr. or Mrs. Wrights is, but they don’t really want you to know about them. I was able to find a couple of guys who did an interview with NPR who were flavor agents that made the flavorings for many high profile food products which I cannot mention, but they did say that they were the ones who created the pink glaze for the popcorn and it was bubble gum flavored. Somehow bubble gum flavored popcorn doesn’t sound as good as it tasted as a kid. Bubble gum was something you chewed and spit out, not chewed and swallowed as my mother always reminded me when I would chew and swallow a piece of Bazooka Joe [as an adult I used to buy tubs of the stuff along with red vines just to satisfy the kid still in me struggling to get out].

I think it’s about time that our Interim Mayor, Ed Lee recognize Wrights pink popcorn as a official San Francisco Treat. When public officials come  to San Francisco Wrights pink popcorn should be in the baskets he presents to them not organic hot dogs like he’s given in the past. This is a company unlike others that started in San Francisco like the It’s-it and Sees candy that have moved to the peninsula, but a San Francisco company that has actually stayed in San Francisco. Sure we have Twitter, but compared to a company started in the 40’s Twitter is an infant.

While Wrights website could use an update they’re more about the product we all take for granted. While I hadn’t seen it at my last trip to the San Francisco Zoo I understand you can still get it there and I was pleased to hear that the Stow Lake boat house will still be selling it. I think I’ll have to find some and share it with my daughter so she can get a taste of old San Francisco.

See’s Candy

I have always been a chocoholic. I have pictures of me as a kid on Halloween stuffing chocolates into my mouth. I was such a chocoholic that in the early 80’s a magazine called Choclatier came out and I was one of the first subscribers. From this magazine I learned about all these new wonderful chocolate makers such as Godiva, Neuhaus, even our old American standby’s Hershey and Nestle had upscale versions that weren’t normally available in stores, but I have to say my fall back was always See’s Candy.

Sees Candy wasn’t actually starting in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles by Charles See in 1921 who wanted an old time candy shop look for the company so he used a picture of his mother Mary See, who never once made a chocolate for the store. See’s Candy moved up the South San Francisco somewhere in the 50’s where it was purchased by the Berkshire Hathaway Group in 1972 with Warren Buffet as it’s chairman [I never expected to find that out]. See’s Candy soon became the staple of shopping malls everywhere in the Bay Area. The best part about a trip to See’s Candy was that even if you didn’t buy anything just walking in meant you got a free piece of candy. When the holidays or someone’s birthday or even if you were invited over to someone’s house for dinner, See’s Candy was the standard to bring. Companies I worked for would receive a 5 lb box at Christmas and my bosses would frequently give out 1 lb boxes to the employees at Christmas time.

When I finally had a chance to sample Godiva and Neuhaus I was impressed, but like so many other people at the malls I headed to Sees when I wanted chocolate. Sees candy is currently $15/pound while Godiva is at $50/pound. See’s Candy in my opinion is much better and diverse than Godiva and that means [in our current economic downturn] that See’s Candy will give you more bang for your buck. My favorite in the boxed variety are the nuts and chews which I could probably much to my doctor’s chagrin eat an entire box in one sitting, but when Easter comes around it is always the divinity eggs that are at the top of my list. Screw the rocky road eggs, I want to bite into chocolate and get to that creamy nutty center. See’s Candy still has the old time candy shop look with only minor updates over the years. The best part about the place is that my mother gave me a very important lesson in stock with See’s Candy. It turns out that if you buy a gift certificate for a 1 lb box of chocolate that you can use it at any time in the future regardless of price increases. Way back when I had more disposable income I sunk my money into 100 gift certificate at $3 each. Now that the price has risen to 5 times that I get a much better return on my investment. I keep the extras in my safe due to their increased value.

While I still have a strong fondness for Ghirardelli Chocolate that is just plain chocolate, when it comes to filled and enrobed chocolates See’s Candy is still top of my list.