Old Monmouth Candy Co.
Owners: The Gunther family
Business: Candy manufacuter, wholesaler, and retailer
Employees: 6 full-time; up to 20 seasonal
Generations actively involved: 2
The recipe and production process for Old Monmouth Candy Company’s peanut brittle has remained unchanged for 70 years. Just as the peanut brittle has always been made by hand, the Gunther family has retained a hands-on approach when it comes to making and selling all of its candies. The company’s approach to customer service has also stood the test of time.
Old Monmouth Candy was founded in 1939 by Lou Dey and Warren Prest, who originally ran it out of a luncheonette on Main Street in Freehold. The company moved in 1948 to a factory on Route 33 in Freehold, where the family opened a retail store that continues to operate today. Dey and Prest retired in 1971 and 1982, respectively; both are now deceased.
Dey was the one who taught Prest how to make the candy, says Prest’s daughter, Susan Gunther, Old Monmouth Candy’s vice president and secretary. “I can remember as a little girl watching Lou make the chocolates and thinking, ‘This is a pretty good deal,’” she says.
Gunther and her husband, Hal, began working in the business in 1968. Like his father-in-law, Hal, who serves as the company’s president, learned the candy-making trade under Dey’s tutelage. The couple’s sons, Steven and David, who work as managers, came on board in the early part of this decade. “If you were a Prest or a Gunther, you definitely put in time at the candy business,” says Susan. “Very often, a few of their friends might be dragged along. During really busy seasons like Easter, we have an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach.
“A small family business, more than a large one, defines who you are,” Susan adds. “It’s not like you’re punching the clock when you’re a family business owner… you’re on call 24-7. You’re all responsible, all the time.”
Depending on the season, as many as twenty part-time employees work alongside the Gunthers and their full-time staff—some of whom have made working at Old Monmouth Candy their own family tradition. One employee, Millie Capronia, was hired in 1957 and worked with the Gunthers for 47 years. Her son, Craig, has worked as Old Monmouth’s candy maker for twenty years, and her grandson is a part-timer. Another longtime employee, Florence Anselowitz, has at times worked alongside both her daughter and her granddaughter.
“Our customers are also three generations of customers,” Susan says. “During Easter, I can’t tell you how many people will come in and say, ‘Coming to Old Monmouth Candy is a tradition. Easter isn’t Easter without an Old Monmouth chocolate rabbit.’ They’re sending them to their grandkids in other states.”
The company’s candies and peanut brittle have been used in benefit drives by community organizations for more than 60 years.
Such efforts began with a request from a Boy Scout leader in the 1940s to sell peanut brittle as a fundraiser. Since then, the Scouts, churches, school groups, and other organizations have sold Old Monmouth Candy’s brittle in its signature orange-and-yellow can with the Molly Pitcher logo.
The company has also sponsored Babe Ruth and Little League baseball teams and assists the Freehold Fire Department with its annual fund-raising event, where supporters purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a 3-foot-tall, 25-pound chocolate bunny. Old Monmouth also offers employment opportunities to special-needs individuals or those who might not otherwise have a chance to utilize their personal skills.
Members of the Association of Retarded Citizens pack Easter grass, senior citizens answer phones and restock candy displays, and vocational-school students work on the
enrober—a conveyor belt used to coat candies in chocolate.
While the people making the candy have changed, Old Monmouth Candy has kept the ideals of Warren Prest alive.
“My father would always say, ‘The customer is always right.’ My dad had a great deal of respect for his customers,” says Susan. “He never took advantage of them. He realized that the customer kept him in business.”Click here to leave a comment