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South Bend staple Claeys Candy toasts its centennial year

February 13, 2019

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — When you first see the building at 525 S. Taylor St. in South Bend, it’s easy to assume that it is abandoned. The red brick warehouse with thick block-glass windows sits kitty-corner to the once vacated Union Station and across from Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium. During baseball season, many walk by the building without a glance, not knowing the life that resides inside.

Under the large, mustard yellow letters and through the single brown utility door, the smell of licorice and the loud hums of machines hit you at once. The boisterousness of Claeys Candy, a company specializing in old-fashioned hard candy, fudge, peanut brittle and Chocolate Charlie, brings it to life.

“A lot of people don’t really know we are here, because we don’t have our own storefront,” said owner Gregg Claeys. “We sell to the retailers directly.”

Claeys is the third-generation owner of the business that his grandfather, Jerome Claeys, began 100 years ago out of two garages on North Blaine Avenue. Today it has blossomed into one of the leading candy suppliers in the nation.

It wasn’t an effortless transition. Different candies, including almond clusters, Eta bars and Puff Balls, have come and gone. The company transitioned from hand labor to machine work in the 1970s to keep up with demand. Claeys is also constantly challenged to stay creative with old-fashioned candy, creating new flavors when he can. The company is always kept on its toes during the high-volume peanut brittle and Chocolate Charlie production season that begins in the fall.

So what’s the secret to the success after all those years? Claeys says it’s simpler than you may think.

“We make good quality candies that people eat the first time and want it again,” he said. “And to have good people work for you to make the candies. Those are the two biggies.”

Archie Morrell is one of those people. Morrell began working for Claeys Candy 35 years ago and part of his job is to make sure the machinery is working to ensure that each of the 15 different varieties of flavored hard candies are the right form, size and temperature before they are coated in cane sugar and eventually packaged for sale.

When he began at the age of 19, it was just a job to keep the bills paid. Now, it’s something more.

″(When I started), I didn’t think this was going to be much,” he said. “But this job has blessed me. It helped me pay for a home and buy cars and things I thought I was never going to be able to get, so it has helped me out a lot.”

James Strean is another candy maker who grew up around Claeys. One of Strean’s duties is to make sure the daily mixture of 33,000 pounds of corn syrup and sugar are blended just right before it’s sent on its way.

“My dad worked here about 30 years ago and that is how I got my foot in the door,” he said. “I grew up within eyesight of the factory and one day I applied and that was it. When we make candy, a lot of the times we feel a bit like Oompa Loompas in the factory, but we don’t do the song and dance,” he adding, referring to the classic movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The company will celebrate its centennial year with emblems on packaging, Claeys said. The future for the company is optimistic as the business continues to grow and discussions of expansion may soon become a reality. Claeys, who is 71, is passing down his wealth of knowledge to longtime employees and invested relatives who will then serve as the fourth generation of the company.

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Source: South Bend Tribune

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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