WESTBROOK – Andy Charles always dreamed of owning a business.

But it wasn’t until after he moved to Maine that Charles realized his dream, when he borrowed money to buy the 96-year-old Westbrook-based Haven’s Candies.

“I was in my early 40s and thought, if I don’t get busy with this, I’ll wake up in my 70s with regrets,” he said of his decision to purchase the company in 2001. “I had an ‘Aha!’ moment.”

Charles, now 53, said he bought Haven’s because he was impressed with the company’s rich legacy in Portland and reputation for high-quality products.

A Maine transplant, Charles was born in Albuquerque, N.M. His father, who was trained in meteorology, worked on weather satellites for companies including Boeing and Lockheed.

The family moved frequently, settling in cities like Seattle, Malibu, Calif., and Stow, Mass.

Charles went on to Princeton University, graduating in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

He also has a master’s degree in engineering management from Catholic University of America, based in Washington, D.C.

Charles spent six years on active duty in the Navy, serving on the USS Dallas nuclear submarine and rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. He also worked for the Navy in Northern Virginia helping design the Virginia-class submarine.

Charles later worked at lighting control company W.R. Grace in Pennsylvania and at a charcoal and liquid smoke company in rural Kentucky.

In 1999, he moved to Maine and landed a job with a now-defunct Scarborough firm, Gabriel Electronics.

Charles had no candy industry experience when he bought Havens in 2001.

“All I knew is that I love chocolate,” he said. “But I did have production and operations background and some finance studies. I figured that would help.”

One Haven’s distributor said Charles’ outside perspective has been an asset to the company.

“It’s good because you get someone who doesn’t have any preconceived ideas of what can and cannot be done. It’s a positive thing to get someone outside the candy business,” said Barry Boyd of Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Bobrow Distributing.

Charles said he leads by keeping abreast of every aspect of the business.

“I am very involved. I like to have my finger on the pulse,” he said.

Charles, who lives in South Portland, is divorced and has two children. Dave, 20, is interested in entrepreneurial studies and is enrolled at Southern Maine Community College, though he may transfer to another school, Charles said. His daughter, Caitlyn, 21, is a junior at Marlboro College in Vermont.

Charles said neither Caitlyn nor Dave has expressed interest taking over the family business.

Charles is eager to celebrate Haven’s 100th anniversary in four years.

He’s also planning a trip — perhaps a biking vacation in Tuscany — to celebrate his 10th anniversary as owner, which happens this year. 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com