Approaching its 100th year anniversary, Wockenfuss Candies remains the staple of Baltimore chocolate. The company has expanded to eight locations across Maryland and even online sales, but city officials assisted current owner and president Paul Wockenfuss in keeping the store within the city.
Wockenfuss said that his Grandfather Herman Charles Wockenfuss, a German immigrant who arrived in America in 1887, began selling candy under the Wockenfuss Candy Company in 1915. The company was then taken over by Herman Lee Wockenfuss, Paul’s father, in 1945 when he returned home from World War II. Paul then took over the company in 1998, and to this day the family is still involved in all aspects of the business. From the management down to the factory line, you can find a Wockenfuss working.
Wockenfuss said that an old commercial for their store had the tagline “Wockenfuss really brings out the kid in you.” It’s hard not to feel that way whether you are standing in the store with pounds of chocolate just out of your reach or standing on the factory floor as marshmallows are being dipped into golden, gooey vats of caramel. There are nougats riding down belts going through waterfalls of chocolate and barrels of chocolate being churned constantly.
Wockenfuss pointed out his Grandson Greg Butler Jr. on the production line; Butler used to work in the storefront in one of the Ocean City stores, but decided he would rather work with the family by making the chocolate they sell. His parents work in the stores in Ocean City, but he moved to Baltimore to work with his grandfather. Working in a chocolate factory isn’t your average job, but it was the lifestyle Butler grew up with.
“Telling people ‘I make candy’ is fun,” Butler said. “It’s a good icebreaker because everyone likes candy or has their favorite type.”
Three years ago the company began to sell their products to other businesses at a wholesale price. The increased sales put the business in a situation where their previous building simply couldn’t handle the workload. This forced the family to begin searching for a new location for their factory. They wished to remain in the city for more than just sentimental reasons.
“Moving into the county would mean that we would have to move into an industrial park, and possibly lose the ability to have a factory store,” Wockenfuss said. “We have a market of 550,000 to 600,000 people here, which is a huge market. I know candy makers who do well with just a 50,000 person market.”
The city helped the company find a location for their current factory, but then began to harass them about code requirements that were introduced in 2008. Even though the requirements would help the company save money in the long run, the initial costs and needed changes were a bit unrealistic.
“The city wanted me to put R32 insulation factor in the roof,” which Wockenfuss said was far more than most of the contractors normally put in. “They even said to raise my score I could take out some parking places and put in grass. The parking was another one of the reasons we liked the location.”
Wockenfuss had to reach out to city officials for help. Officials helped sort out the “red tape,” by finding out the regulations did not apply for renovated buildings. After completing all renovations, Wockenfuss invited everyone involved in the project to a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
A crowd of 45 individuals involved in the project came to the ribbon-cutting a year ago even though Wockenfuss said he would be happy with just six. They were treated to a tour of the factory, an experience most don’t get to experience outside of watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” or going to Hershey Park’s Chocolate World.
In March, Wockenfuss Candies had its first ever public tour since 1915 and they didn’t even require you to have a golden ticket.
“We set up the floor with ten foot aisles to walk through with the intention of doing tours,” Wockenfuss said. “We had 1,005 people come through our factory in six hours.”
The tours began in the back of the facility and worked their way through the surprisingly small complex. The large basement beneath the store contains outdated equipment and old chocolate molds not used anymore; another sign of how Wockenfuss hasn’t been left behind technologically.
The company maintains profiles on all the major social media websites including Pintrest for those that just want to look and not eat. Wockenfuss said that their staff also writes blogs once a week ranging from chocolate holidays to the health benefits of chocolate. With the upcoming 100th anniversary, Wockenfuss said he wants to possibly rebrand the company and do a marketing push but he is putting that in the hands of his daughters.
In a world where everything can be ordered online, candy offers a challenge for shipping. Gummies and taffy are simple, but shipping chocolate can lead to a consumer ending up with a puddle. Wockenfuss said that they ship chocolate eight months out of the year but the four summer months are cost-prohibitive to their customers.
“We could always ship first day air, but you’ll be paying say $15 for your chocolate and then $15 for shipping,” Wockenfuss said.
The company has been selling online for 12 years and is now on their third revision of their website. Wockenfuss said the design is very important as he recognizes, because it only takes a matter of seconds for a consumer to lose interest in a website.
The Wockenfuss family is deeply committed to the company. Wockenfuss even said his 87-year-old mother even works four hours a week. Wockenfuss Candies represents what a family can accomplish together but also how important the company is to Baltimore and Maryland as a whole.