A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Red Bird Puffed Peppermints — Lexington Named for North Carolina’s state bird, the cardinal, these soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth mints have been made by Piedmont Candy Company since 1933, when founder

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Red Bird Puffed Peppermints — Lexington Named for North Carolina’s state bird, the cardinal, these soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth mints have been made by Piedmont Candy Company since 1933, when founder

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Carolina Candy Land

Red Bird Puffed Peppermints — Lexington

Named for North Carolina’s state bird, the cardinal, these soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth mints have been made by Piedmont Candy Company since 1933, when founder Edward Ebelein revived the brand from his previous business. Piedmont Candy remained in Ebelein’s family until 1987, when another Tar Heel family took on the mantle of making the sweets.


Boston Fruit Slices — Sanford

These Northern transplants moved to Sanford after being produced in Boston for seven decades. H.W. Powers Candy Company made the first jelly fruit slices in the country, and in 1984, an employee bought the product line and started Boston Fruit Slice. The candy is still handmade in small batches to look and taste like slices of lemon, lime, orange, and other fruits.


Butterfields Peach Buds — Nashville

After nearly a century, Butterfields’ sweet, sugar-coated peach buds are still a Southern favorite. The hard candies — also available in other flavors — are handmade using vintage machinery, original recipes, and real fruit, including a sliver of coconut in the center of each uniquely shaped bud.


Rusty’s Peanut Brittle — Tarboro

Rusty Holderness’s mother used to pour hot peanut brittle onto her marble countertop to cool, leaving the air bubbles intact to keep it light and crispy. Today, Holderness makes the nostalgic treat — using North Carolina-grown peanuts — the same way, using a recipe passed down from his grandmother’s nurse, a World War II veteran.

(252) 823-3611, rustyspeanutbrittle.com

Wynn and Annette Conrad bought The Candy Factory from Jeanne Leonard, who was Annette’s sixth-grade teacher. Leonard’s father made the fudge when he started the business in 1978, and now Wynn makes it. photograph by Dhanraj Emanuel

The Candy Factory

Behind the iconic red-and-white awning on Main Street in Lexington, Wynn and Annette Conrad continue a tradition that began more than 40 years ago. In 1978, Robert Ebelein — the second-generation candymaker who owned Piedmont Candy Company with his wife, Frances — set up a small shop on the company’s property to sell his family’s homemade fudge and peanut brittle. The next year, he bought and renovated the 1890 Lexington Hardware building downtown and opened The Candy Factory. The Conrads took over from the Ebeleins’ three daughters in 2018. They keep wooden barrels and glass jars filled to the brim with the treats of yesteryear, like rock candy, Bottle Caps, and, of course, Piedmont Candy’s Red Bird puffed mints — plus the creamy homemade fudge that launched a legacy.

15 North Main Street, (336) 249-6770, lexingtoncandyfactory.com

Old North State’s drop candy — in flavors like blue raspberry, huckleberry, and the best-selling sour tangerine — is made by rolling molten candy into bubbly-looking sheets before it hardens. The sheets are then “dropped,” breaking the candy into pieces. photograph by Maria West Photography

Old North State Candy and Gifts

As a little girl, Donna Rogers often played in her grandmother’s copper candy-making pot. Years later, after she bought a 110-year-old candy business in 2018, Donna and her team now use a similar pot — which, in addition to a candy hook and a batch roller, is original equipment from 1908 — to make 47 flavors of hard candies. At Old North State Candy and Gifts in Thomasville (plus online and via wholesale), Donna and her daughter, Cheyenne, sell old-fashioned and freeze-dried sweets alongside fudge, nut brittles, and drop candies under the brand name Chesebro’s, Donna’s mother’s maiden name — a nod to her family’s candy-making heritage.

2 East Main Street, (336) 475-0022, oldnorthstatecandyandgifts.com

Videri sources cacao beans from seven different countries. After the beans arrive, employees sort them by hand, removing twigs and rocks and separating good beans from ones that are broken or flat. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

Videri Chocolate Factory

When Sam Ratto and his team roast cacao beans, Videri Chocolate Factory smells like brownies baking. Chocolate-making begins in the bean corral, where employees hand-sort 17 to 20 tons of beans each year. Then, they roast, winnow, grind, and refine the beans before tempering and adding sugar and cocoa butter. Inside the historic Raleigh Depot, visitors can see — and smell — the entire process. That transparency is reflected in the name Videri, a Latin word that translates loosely as “to be seen” — from North Carolina’s state motto, esse quam videri, or “to be rather than to seem.”

Chocolate makers like Sam Ratto transform beans into bars, while chocolatiers (Videri employs three) turn those bars into truffles, peppermint bark, and other goodies. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

In 2010, Sam Ratto got a job sorting and roasting cacao beans and knew immediately that he would spend the rest of his life making chocolate. He opened Videri in 2011 but says that “it took about eight years to understand more about this process than I don’t understand.” Now, he and his staff lead informal tastings with anywhere from 40 to 100 groups of customers a day, educating them about the nuanced flavors of dark chocolate. “This is what chocolate tastes like when it’s properly farmed, harvested, and fermented,” Ratto tells customers. They might learn to detect notes of fruit or spices — and the tastings allow the staff to get immediate feedback on new creations. “We’re still learning every day.”

327 West Davie Street, (919) 755-5053, viderichocolatefactory.com

In a blind taste test, Tom Thekkekandam and Jenny Citineni’s sugar-free caramels — available in classic, chocolate, ginger, spiced rum, and coffee flavors — proved indistinguishable from sugared versions. photograph by Alex Boerner

Tom & Jenny’s

Dr. Jenny Citineni, a dentist, kept seeing the same patients coming in with cavities from eating too much sugar. So she and her husband, Tom Thekkekandam, started experimenting with making sugar-free candies. They tested about 200 batches of gummies, chocolates, and more in their kitchen. The candy that stood out: a soft caramel. The couple worked with Michael Laiskonis, a James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef, to perfect their recipe. The caramels sold out on QVC in just 12 minutes, and the couple won UNC’s Carolina Challenge for entrepreneurs, but “the more everyday [moments],” Thekkekandam says — the appreciative emails, reviews, or comments from people who just need a little something sweet without the sugar — “those are really the ones that we live for.”


Barrels of nostalgic candies await inside the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, which opened as Taylor & Moore General Store in this same building in 1883. photograph by Revival Creatives

Mast General Store
Valle Crucis

Bullseye caramels, Astro Pops, Mallo Cups, Bit-O-Honey: Kids and adults alike grab old-fashioned and popular candies by the handful and pay by the pound at Mast General Store. This special section of the store, called The Candy Barrel, began in 1982, when the Manzes, who owned the building across the bridge from the original store in Valle Crucis, offered to sell some of Mast’s products while the bridge was under construction. The Manzes started The Candy Barrel in what became the Mast General Store Annex. In 1997, Mast’s owners, John and Faye Cooper, bought The Candy Barrel, ensuring that customers at each of their eventual 11 locations would enjoy a taste of sweet nostalgia.


Kimberly Smith and her daughters, Lauren Rich and Brooke Harrell, are known for their toffee, which has “a nice, soft, buttery crunch,” Rich says. photograph by MALLORY CASH

Carolina Candy Company & Gifts

Carolina Candy Company is a family affair: Kimberly and Charles Smith, a Navy veteran, have been running the business with their daughters, Lauren Rich and Brooke Harrell, since they bought it in 2007 — even the Smiths’ sons-in-law pitch in during the busiest times of year. “It’s really neat to have everybody’s hands in the pot, making it work,” Rich says. In their store, they sell their handcrafted toffee, gourmet chocolates, and other candies alongside gifts from small, family-owned businesses, Rich says. “Every item in here has a story just like ours.”

1045 South Kerr Avenue, Suite B, (910) 794-9905, carolinacandy.com

For those who can’t make it to downtown Asheville for dessert at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, the company offers a Bonbon of the Month subscription. photograph by Tim Robison

French Broad Chocolate

After dropping out of grad school, Dan Rattigan and Jael Skeffington moved to Costa Rica, bought an abandoned cacao plantation, and started a café and dessert shop. In 2006, they moved to Asheville, and later opened the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which serves decadent desserts like bonbons, cakes and cookies, house-made ice cream, and drinking chocolates. All of the sweets use as many local ingredients as possible, including chocolate made in their own factory.

Lounge and boutique: 10 South Pack Square, (828) 252-4181
Factory and café: 821 Riverside Drive, (828) 348-5187, frenchbroadchocolates.com

Scotch Bonnet Fudge & Gifts

There’s something about breathing in the salty ocean air that calls for something sweet. Scotch Bonnet Fudge & Gifts has been satisfying those cravings for more than 60 years. Its 22 flavors of chewy, gooey saltwater taffy and 34 flavors of homemade fudge — swirled together; dotted with nuts or cookies; or sandwiched around caramel, coconut, or fruity fillings — made the shop nationally famous when it appeared on Food Network’s Food Finds.

51684 NC Highway 12 (open seasonally), (252) 995-4242, scotchbonnetfudges.com

GGB Candies sells gummies in hundreds of variations, ranging from 1.75 ounces to five pounds (plus the 25-pound party bear) in every shape, color, and flavor imaginable. photograph by Charles Harris

GGB Candies

Weighing in at a whopping 25 pounds, GGB Candies’ largest gummy bear is made for sharing. Founded in 2007, the business evolved from a small chain of candy stores owned by CEO Mike Horwitz’s family into a line of giant gummy bears. But they didn’t stop at bears: Horwitz counts gummy pizza, gummy hamburgers, gummy pies, and spicy gummy peppers among his favorite inventions — although, he says, “on any given day, it changes.” He, his wife, and their four kids are all official taste testers, of course, ensuring that each new sweet is bursting with flavor and creativity.

(919) 665-6361, giantgummybears.com

This story was published on Jan 31, 2023

Katie King

Katie King is a managing editor at Our State.