Approaching the Century Mark, Wockenfuss Candies Continues to Evolve
Chocolate-covered pretzels sell well at Wockenfuss Candies. But Paul Wockenfuss hated throwing away all the broken pretzels.
“We’re candy makers,” he says. So the pretzels were crushed, mixed with almond butter crunch and mixed with chocolate. The resulting crispy pretzel bits became a big seller. “Now I’m selling so many I have to crush pretzels,” he says.
Wockenfuss, a family-owned candy maker that started in Baltimore in 1915, is about to mark its centenary. With generations of the family still involved in the business, its president Paul Wockenfuss, grandson of the founder, sees a bright future.
The candy magic happens in the Harford Road factory. Wockenfuss moved here three years ago, doubling the company’s floor space to 25,000 square feet. The production area takes up 12,000 square feet.
Behind the gaily-colored retail shop are the kitchen filled with big copper pots, giant mixers and water-cooled tables, long conveyor belts reminiscent of an “I Love Lucy” episode, and counters for boxing, bagging and shipping.
Butter creams, peanut butter cups and nonpareils are big sellers but Baltimore caramel fudge is a sentimental favorite. “I shouldn’t even be making these,” he says. Not only does it lose money, it’s fragile and hard to transport. But the company has been making it for 99 years and when he suggests stopping production at a company meeting, the room gets quiet. So even if it is only made in 15-pound quantities, it still gets made.
With pink signs hanging above every station in the bright white shop, it looks ready for a tour – and it is. About 20 tour groups visit each week, except in the busy season. A factory open house a few weeks before Easter draws about 1,000 visitors.
Wockenfuss Candy Company was founded by Herman Charles Wockenfuss, a German immigrant and award-winning candy maker. His son Herman Lee took over after World War II and added chocolates. Now at the helm is the third-generation candymaker, Paul, who took over in 1998. When he decided it was time to expand 10 years ago, he remained committed to Baltimore City. “It’s a market of 600,000 people,” he notes.
On Harford Road, Wockenfuss is part of a neighborhood. “The neighbors were tickled to death I was coming here,” he says. Family still runs Wockenfuss. All three of his daughters, Christine, Janice and Jennifer, work for the company. His oldest daughter Christine and her husband Greg run the three Ocean City stores.
A cousin, Richard Koch, is the plant manager; nephew David Koch is head candy maker; and his sister Joan works in the office.
Wockenfuss has eight stores, including one in Bel Air – which Wockenfuss opened despite a busy story nearby in White Marsh and a bleak economy. “It’s a cute little store,” Wockenfuss says. “It’s worked very well for us.”
The Bel Air store opened in a 1905 building in January and for Valentine’s Day, sales topped White Marsh’s. Holiday business still exceeds the White Marsh store, which is run by his wife Lynn.
“We had to grow the numbers,” he says. He’s still thinking about growth – new stores, new products, new projects. “My problem is I have run out of family members,” he says.
Wockenfuss listens to customers’ ideas, Wockenfuss says. “If two people tell you, you better be listening because the other 98 aren’t going to tell you.” When Wockenfuss bought the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store in Ocean City, customers clamored for caramel apples, like those Rocky Mountain had sold. “We’re candy makers,” Wockenfuss says. “We’ll make caramel apples.” Now they sell 300 a day in Ocean City and as many as 500 during December in Baltimore. “That’s a lot of apples at the end of the month,” he says.
Wockenfuss says he’s considering necessary expansions for the wholesale market, replacing 10-inch conveyor belts with 16-inch belts. “I have tremendous capacity in this same floor space,” he says. “I’m already set up for growth. I want to get it in here before I retire.” That, he figures, is about 10 years away.
The candy maker moved into online sales about 15 years ago and although he’s not giving away any numbers, Wockenfuss will say they are doing well. Moving shipping to Ocean City has turned seasonal workers into full-time employees. And an agreement with Amazon.com last summer has boosted sales. “They contacted us,” Wockenfuss says. “That’s been growing very nicely,” he says.
He’d also like to add a candy school for the next generation of candy makers. “I have the space in the kitchen and the equipment. I want to see 20 more people in the candy business,” he says.
“There’s nothing a candy maker likes to do more than make candy,” Wockenfuss says. I95