Gloucester sweets an 80-year family business
GLOUCESTER - On a typical Monday morning at Nichols Candies, Steven Nichols pushes a long wooden paddle through a bubbling blend of sugar, corn syrup, salt, molasses, and butter in the same copper cauldron his grandparents Walter and Margaret Nichols used back in 1932 when they founded the confectionery.
“I am making creoles,’’ says Nichols, referring to the chewy molasses sweets which, once set, will be dipped in milk and dark chocolate. The recipe comes from a small, weathered brown notebook filled with handwritten directions for the 80 or so luscious mints, creams, jellies, and nougats made by hand in the shop twice a week.
Down in the basement, chocolatier Don Gibbons uses a dinner knife to stir roasted almonds in a small bowl filled with melted dark chocolate for clusters, which he scoops onto parchment-lined, stackable wooden trays to cool under an ancient black fan. It’s the same area where the caramels, creams, and other filled chocolates will receive their velvety chocolate coatings later that week.
Upstairs in the cozy showroom, longtime employees Joanna Newman and Janet Kimmence stand ready to help customers select their treats from the heaped trays of bonbons arranged on tables throughout the room. The bewitching scent of chocolate fills the air, along with a palpable sense of pleasure and old-fashioned fun.
A beloved treasure on the North Shore, Nichols Candies has been making fudge, caramels, and chocolate-dipped cherries the same way for close to 80 years: by hand, in small batches, with real butter, whole milk, and other high-quality ingredients.
“Oh, their candy is the best,’’ said Shirley Edmonds, a neighbor, who stopped in with her husband, William, to buy treats for their grandchildren. “We buy it for ourselves and to give as gifts. I love chocolate and I love their walnut whips,’’ she said, referring to the melt-in-your-mouth squares of chocolate riddled with nuts.
Nichols, 51, learned to make confections from his grandfather and father. Although Steven’s parents are technically retired, Bill Nichols still manages the finances, while his wife, Barbara, orders all the paper goods, including the shop’s signature sea-green, burgundy, and white boxes. Steven has taken over the job of “Willy Wonka’’ (with the help of two assistants) and, as the only one of three siblings living in the area, ultimately will take over the shop. When he retires, his son, Matt, a student at Johnson & Wales University and an employee at a candy company in Newport, R.I., will eventually join the family business. “If he wants,’’ says his father, chuckling.
Open every day except July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Dec. 26, Nichols Candies has a devoted following. Of the 5,000 pounds of sweets the shop makes annually, a small portion is shipped to former Cape Ann residents and tourists who stopped in and fell in love with the sweets. The bulk gets snapped up by locals, with the chocolate cashew patties and chocolate-almond butter crunch the top two sellers. On occasion, a celebrity might stop in.
“We had Harrison Ford here [in 1996] when he won the Hasty Pudding Award,’’ said Newman. “It was Mother’s Day and he was buying candy for his mother. And, you know what? Nobody in the store even noticed him because they were so focused on the candy!’’
Victoria Abbott Riccardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.