Candy. Not something one immediately thinks of when they think of Pittsburgh. Normally it’s Heinz, or Andy Warhol, or HC Frick or Gettysburg. I could go on with that list but I don’t want to bore you with possible Pittsburgh history you may already know. Along those same lines, I am also going to skip over the most well-known Pennsylvania based candy factory in the world: Hershey’s. Do we really need yet another blog post about it when it’s already featured in a myriad of television shows and documentaries? Naw. I’ll link a few informational items below if you’re truly interested in learning more about Milton Hershey, the town and the factory:
I mean, how could I not still at least mention Hershey’s? Especially since I’ve gone several times to the Chocolate World experience throughout my teenage years? I still have yet to experience the theme park or any other historical elements myself. Today’s blog post is all about sweet treats produced by other Pennsylvania candy companies. Let’s take a look at these confectioneries in order by year established.
The McKeesport Candy Company – est. 1927
“As with most fine things, chocolate has its season. There is a simple memory aid that you can use to determine whether it is the correct time to order chocolate dishes: any month whose name contains the letter A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate.”Sandra Boynton, Chocolate: The Consuming Passion
- In business for 95 years
- Founded by Ernest Prince
- Location: McKeesport
I must admit that I’ve never heard of this candy company before, and I think it has everything to do with the fact that I live on the other side of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels. It wasn’t until recently that I started going to Monroeville for my job did I realize just how far this particular municipality truly extended. As I’m on the travel team for a local hospital system, my mind tends to wander as I’m out on 376. What untapped history lies just beyond the tunnels? I’m sure someone’s explored it before. Let’s take a look at The McKeesport Candy Company.
What fascinates me most is just how often candy and cigars are sold together. Perhaps it’s their combined addictive nature, but I had to have a little giggle as I read the history for this company. Instead of being a chocolatier, the McKeesport Candy Company is more of a supplier than a producer of the sweet confections. Direct from their website:
The company deals in wholesale candy and distribution of tobacco products. Since 1945 their line has expanded to include the packaging of candy as well as a large line of seasonal candy and candy novelties. Their customers include discount stores, grocery outlets, drug stores, super markets and large volume users throughout Western Pennsylvania.source
I suppose that could be another good reason I’ve never heard of them: as a single lady with no children and only a niece and nephew, there’s no need for me to order confections in bulk. The McKeesport Candy Company prides itself on being locally owned, locally sourced, and being more reliable than larger competitors. There’s absolutely something to be said about the Pennsylvanian’s ability to adjust to changing times, isn’t there?
Gene & Boots Candies – est. 1930
“Coffee and chocolate—the inventor of mocha should be sainted.”Cherise Sinclair, Hour of the Lion
- In business for 92 years
- Founded by Gene Madigan and his friend, “Boots”
- Location: Connellsville
Gene & Boots, surprisingly, didn’t get their start in the chocolate business. Rather, they began life as a salted peanuts and popcorn stand. “They found a rental beside the Coyle Theater. They started to sell popcorn and salted peanuts. They named the business Gene & Boots. Finding that people stopped by after the movies, they began selling soft drinks. Next, they sold ice cream and sodas.” source
Even though Milton Hershey was among the first to manufacture a “chocolate bar,” Gene’s father saw the potential in the confection and soon they produced their own varieties. This addition proved very popular with those who lived in their area, and that popularity helped grow their company to what it is today.
Betsy Ann Chocolates – est. 1938
“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”Katherine Hepburn
- In business for 84 years
- Founded by Betsy Ann Helsel
- Location: North Hills
As this company is based mere miles from my home, I am very familiar with Betsy Ann’s. They have displays in local grocery stores during certain holidays, and my dad would buy them for his secretaries as thank yous quite often. He retired almost ten years ago now, and now buys them as thank yous for his tenants each Christmas. But that’s just a little family history of our experience with this chocolatier. Let’s take a look at the company’s actual history.
“Familiar favorite ingredients, flavor combinations and pleasing textures lovingly turn each bite into the sweetest of memories.” This definitely holds true for my family. Betsy Ann’s prides itself on its product, and I think that’s why they haven’t felt the need to open more than their website and a Facebook page.
They also recognize the fact that their customers often come in just to treat themselves, rather than purchasing exclusively as a gift for someone else. While there isn’t much on the history of Betsy Ann’s on their website, one certainly gets the feel of a family-owned business. I think I’m gonna have to stock up on chocolate in the near future…
Dorothy’s Candies – est. 1947
“Can I come back and see you sometime?”source
“Long as you bring me some chocolate,” Gramma said, and smiled. “I’m partial to chocolate.”
“Gramma, you’re diabetic.”
“I’m old, girl. Gonna die of something. Might as well be chocolate.”
- In business for 75 years
- Founded by Dorothy Gillespie
- Location: McKeesport
Another chocolatier in McKeesport, this one began in 1947 under Ms. Dorothy Gillespie’s direction, guidance and recipes. Chocolate making was a fun, family venture for the Gillespie family, with many hours spent together in the kitchen along the Mon River.
What began as a basement shop soon grew into something nobody in their family could’ve dreamed. “Though our facilities are larger today than Dorothy’s cramped basement, our commitment to artisan processes remains unchanged. We still use all the secret recipes which Dorothy developed over the years, both for dipping chocolates and for creating delectable fillings.”
There’s something to be said about a family owned business. They don’t have shareholders to dictate how they source their product or run the production. And they’re able to more easily keep with the traditions that make their product what it is still today. Longevity is something I’ve always appreciated in a business, and yinz better believe I’ll be paying Dorothy’s Candies a visit some time soon!
Eureka Chocolate & Gifts – est. 1994
“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”source
- In business for 28 years
- Founded by Susan McGinty
- Location: Shadyside
When I think of Shadyside, I literally only think of UPMC Shadyside. Why? That’s where I’m often scheduled as a float for my job. I often forget about the universities, college kids and business district that’s also there. From Bigelow to Baum Boulevard, it’s easy to see precisely where one’s at. Now, after my next shift at Shadyside, I’m gonna have to keep an eye out for Eureka’s.
Our retail shop has been described by many as a jewelry box filled with gems. The array of artisan chocolates is as beautiful as the handcrafted jewelrysource
A business younger than I’ve been alive (I’ll be 37 in September), it’s made a name for itself in this part of Pittsburgh. “Since 1994, proprietor Susan McGinty has honed her passion for offering the finest products and personalized service into a world class shopping experience.” source In 1994 I was nine years old, Bill Clinton was President, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake shook California, Johnny Carson makes his last appearance on Letterman, and Eureka Chocolate & Gifts opens its doors for the first time.
“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”source
There you have it, folks. Five chocolatiers from 1927 to 1994, and we barely had to talk about Hershey’s at all! Don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against Hershey’s. I just wanted to give some other great candy companies their chance to shine.
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get out to Hershey, PA to explore more than just Chocolate World. Perhaps that could be what I’ll do for my birthday this year? Hmmm… Pardon my momentary dreaming!
Well, I do believe I’ll leave yinz with a challenge: get out there and explore businesses that are off the beaten path and less well-known than their corporate competitors. That’s one of my own personal goals for the rest of 2022. Get out there and enjoy some chocolate!