America's oldest business "sweet talks" at local confectionary

Apr 24, 2012

The man now in charge of what’s believed to be America’s oldest family-run business was in Tallahassee recently.  Tom Flanigan sat down with Warren Schimpf to talk about his “sweet success”.

Warren Schimpf and his wife Jill were already in Florida when they popped into Tallahassee’s Lofty Pursuits soda fountain and candy store in Market Square.

“We came to Florida for the R.C.I. ( Retail Confectioner International) trade organization of mom and pop candy shops across the country was meeting in Jacksonville.  They had a three-day meeting so we’re on our way home so we stopped in here because we heard about Greg and Wes here and came to see them do this.”

“Greg” is Lofty Pursuits owner Greg Cohen and “Wes” is his chief candy maker Wes Raley.  Their store’s been open since 1993, but the Schimpf Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Indiana has been around a bit longer.  It opened in 1891 and the Schimpf family has been making candy in that town since Civil War times.  Warren Schimpf doesn’t only make candy.  He also displays vintage candy-making equipment in his store.

“I say I have the largest private collection that’s on public display.  I’ve got about thirty different machines.  We’ve got 110 pair of dies hanging on our wall.”

These all date from the time long ago when many American candy stores made their own candy.  That changed during the Twentieth Century as mass producers like Spangler and Quality took over U-S candy making.  Today, most hard candy is made in China.  But Schimpf sees that trend reversing--at least a little bit.

“There’s a resurgence across the country I’d say in artisan things.  You know, things that are small batch; micro-breweries, micro-distilleries coming out, small artisan candy shops that are adding significantly to the market for historical candies.”

And all the time this conversation was going on, Schimpf was watching Tallahassee candy-maker Wes Raley expertly mold and chop a seemingly endless stream of watermelon-flavored hard candies.

“There are very few people doing what you see done, what we just saw done today here.  Somebody doing what we call ‘cut rock’ with cutters and things in it.  He’s doing a marvelous job.”

Schimpf hopes more people will re-discover the lost art of hard candy-making and old-fashioned confection stores like his will continue to spring up across the country.