End of an era for Putney artisan candy maker

candy
Vermonter Candy Co. retires after 70 years. Photo provided

PUTNEY, Vt. – It has been a long, sweet run in Putney for the Vermonter Candy Company, as it was recently announced that the longtime, artisan candy maker is retiring after nearly 70 years in the business. The company is well-known for its peanut brittle, walnut crunch, and cashew brittle made with Vermont maple syrup.

The Vermonter Candy Company was founded in 1950 by Herbert “Stick” Handy, who originally launched the business along with his father in Dorset, Vt. before moving the operation to Putney in 1951. Hebert ran the candy-making company until 2004 when his daughter, Carolyn Handy, took over the reins of the family business. Carolyn’s grandfather’s family, who originally resided in Springfield, Mass., also worked in the chocolate candy business going back to the 1920s.

When the Dorset tourist restaurant where Herbert worked during tourist season closed for the winter and he was laid off, the restaurant owner let Stick utilize the kitchen. He and his father created the recipe that would become their delicious preservative-free, maple and nut flavored brittle candy. “Our original recipes for maple peanut brittle and maple walnut crunch were created [in 1950] by my father, and he perfected the art of making thin, maple brittles over the decades,” Carolyn states. “It’s not a matter of putting ingredients together and cooking them; it’s what to do, how, and when.”

Stick then became a salesman and started selling the thin, delicate brittle candy throughout Vermont and beyond. When the sales started to build, he did not want to surrender the momentum when the restaurant reopened for the summer, and he decided to make the candy endeavor a family business. The Handys would purchase the old Putney School laundry building on West Hill in 1951 and converted the space into a candy factory and their home, committing to producing their product full-time.

Production consisted of the Handys and their employees producing the brittle some 50 times a year, with Stick spending the rest of the year delivering the candy to customers throughout Vermont and New England. Because the candy was so delicate, the Handys preferred to personally deliver their product to customers, as opposed to having it boxed up and shipped by a carrier.

Carolyn is the second generation to own the Vermonter Candy Company, having literally grown up around the business. From watching the employees make the candy as a child, to her first job sweeping the floors after production, to eventually helping make the candy. She ultimately owned the company for nearly 15 years and continued to hand-deliver the product to their loyal customers.

“As a young child, I wanted to be involved, but it was too dangerous to be around hot candy, so my father lifted me into a high wooden chair, like a stool, so I could watch everything. Gradually, I was allowed to sweep the floors and in my teenage years, I never had to look for a summer job because my dad would always hire me and I would keep track of my hours on a blackboard on the back of the cooking room door. Once I got my driver’s license, my dad had me deliver candy all over the state. Some weeks I would log 1,000 miles on the delivery vehicle, but I enjoyed it.”

Carolyn states that after losing money through the business the last couple years, mostly due to the increase in minimum wage, the cost of workman’s compensation insurance for part-time employees who worked only a handful of days, and shops who stocked the candy feeling it was becoming too expensive to carry, it was decided to retire the business. “Although I tried to cut costs, the overall deficit became too much to bear,” Carolyn said. “The cost of ingredients and packaging was reasonable, but the labor and overhead costs kept increasing.

“My employees never asked for a raise, and we all looked forward to the days that we would all work together. But I had to increase wages by 50 cents every year because of Vermont minimum wage laws, and other fees like insurance, licenses, and overheard increased steadily. As a consequence, the wholesale cost of the candy had to be increased and many stores thought it was just too much.”

Although the family recipe is confidential, Carolyn disclosed it consists of Vermont Pure Maple Syrup from the Collins family in Westminster West, Vt., small Spanish peanuts from Texas and Georgia, walnuts from California, and cashews from Brazil. However, Carolyn also stated that the family recipes and candy-making techniques are not for sale.

“Many customers would buy The Vermonter Candy as Christmas or birthday gifts, and I’m sorry that treat won’t be available anymore. I miss my former employees very much and when I was a child, the company employees were like family to me.

“My father had four grandchildren and as of now, none of them want to take over the candy-making business. But if they ever do, I will pass on the recipes, equipment and other secrets to them,” Carolyn said.

Here’s hoping that someday, The Vermonter Candy Company tradition will continue.

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