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Ocean City Area Features

Candy Kitchen

  By: Dorrie Anshel

Shore visitors can’t help but smile when they see the happy orange sun surrounded by brightly colored candies. They know they’re at the Candy Kitchen, purveyors since 1937 of chewy taffy, delectable fudge, hand-dipped chocolates, and other delicious confections. What they might not know is how this local legend got started. That’s the sweet story of Sam Taustin, his eight sisters, and a country ready for a taste of something scrumptious after years of deprivation during the Great Depression.

According to Candy Kitchen President Bruce Leiner, his Uncle Sam was “charming and great with people, a natural leader, and a smart businessman.” A true entrepreneur, Sam owned a successful bingo parlor, a nightclub, and several popular restaurants back when Ocean City was a sleepy town offering pony rides on the sand. Sam had eight sisters, all of whom wanted to do more than cook, clean and mind the children. It was rare for women to work outside the home in the 1930s, but Sam’s sisters were a determined bunch. To keep them happy and occupied, he opened multiple candy “shoppes” on the boardwalk for his sisters to run.

To his surprise, this little family business was a huge hit, attracting vacationers who purchased candy to eat here and extra to take home. “Salt water taffy was a specialty you could find only at the beach,” says Bruce. “The novelty pushed sales higher, and Sam realized that the ‘shoppes’ had unlimited potential.” To this day, taffy remains the company’s biggest seller, with hundreds of thousands of pounds produced each season.

The early store signs advertised Fudge Taffy, their two products at the time. “I guess Sam didn’t think about punctuation, so people thought he had invented some new mixture of the two candies,” Bruce recalls with a smile. Originally, Sam shipped the fudge and taffy from Philadelphia to the shore, but at the urging of his brother-in-law, Kurt, he brought the candy-making in-house. “Kurt had the idea, and Sam had the financing,” says Bruce. “Together, they expanded into manufacturing and more stores. The family joke was that every time a little shopping center opened, Sam would open a Candy Kitchen.”

Now, with 21 stores in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, a bustling plant, and 300 seasonal employees – some of whom have been with the company for more than 30 years – Sam might not recognize today’s Candy Kitchen. But he would be proud of how much those original shoppes on the boardwalk have grown. With Bruce at the helm and wife Cindy overseeing store design, merchandising, packaging and displays, Candy Kitchen remains very much a family enterprise. Thanks to their hard work, innovation and respect for tradition, the company will celebrate its 80th birthday this summer.

Bruce can’t imagine doing anything else. “It’s a privilege to continue what my uncle and his sisters started. While we’ve redesigned the stores and expanded what we offer, we still make candy by hand, the old-fashioned way, with many of the same recipes Sam and Kurt used in the ‘40s and ‘50s. That will never change.” 

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