February 7, 2011

The Bottom Line: Haven's Candies hitting that sweet spot

As the Westbrook company approaches the 100-year mark, good candy-making still comes down to one thing: the right touch.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK - Meet the girls at Haven's Candies: Shakira, Betty Boop and Daisy.

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Paul Norweg holds a see-through mold to make chocolate baskets at Haven’s Candies in Westbrook.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Candy maker Steve Quimby pours heated candy to create spearmints at Haven’s Candies in Westbrook.

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Workers agree that they are pretty high-maintenance, but keep in mind that they're also about 100 years old.

Shakira, Betty Boop and Daisy are the names bestowed on three taffy-wrapping machines at this Westbrook-based candy store, part of a tradition of using tried and true techniques to turn out such signature candies as truffles, turtles, nonpareils, toffees, peanut butter cups and nut clusters.

A dedication to what works, even if it's old-fashioned, has helped the company deliver profits nearly 100 years after it was founded, according to owner Andy Charles.

"What I love about Haven's is that we are 96 years old, and although we have expanded our size and scope, and adopted some technology, we still make candy by hand," Charles said. "We are sticking to our roots. That's the soul of the company."

On Thursday, employees at Haven's Westbrook plant were busy finishing a Valentine's Day production.

Using wooden dowels to push a thick liquid through handheld steel funnels, two workers formed hundreds of cream mints -- colorful, multi-flavored sugary wafers made only this time of year.

In another room, a staffer dipped plastic Easter basket moldings into liquid chocolate, holding each in the swirling liquid just a moment to fill every nook.

On a nearby table, chocolates shaped like starfish, champagne bottles -- even flip-flops -- cooled.

Nearby, workers assembled chocolate lobster dinner plates, complete with a 1-pound chocolate lobster, a chocolate side of butter and chocolate shells and pebbles.

"There's not a lot of instruments used," Charles said of Haven's processes. "It's visual and it's about feel. It's a craft -- a science-based craft."

Charles estimates Haven's buys roughly 100,000 pounds of chocolate every year and makes 200,000 to 250,000 pounds of confections. In addition to chocolate products, Haven's sells taffy, roasted nuts and hard candies, including candy canes.

The company has three retail stores -- in Portland, Scarborough and at the factory in Westbrook -- and sells candy to corporations and regional distributors.

Charles said he uses high-quality and expensive ingredients, such as cashews from Brazil and Westbrook Dark, a proprietary dark chocolate blend made by a Pennsylvania subsidiary of international food company Cargill.

"(Charles) uses top-quality ingredients. He doesn't buy Hershey's, he buys a much better brand. ... The quality is exceptional," said Barry Boyd, president and CEO of Bobrow Distributing, a Clifton Park, N.Y., company that resells Haven's candies to other retailers. Bobrow also supplies Haven's with some candy, such as jelly beans, gummy bears and foiled chocolates.

"Haven's is considered an upscale candy operation. (Charles) provides a product a lot of candy shops can't provide for themselves," Boyd said.

Haven's was founded in 1915 when Herbert Haven moved from Boston to Portland with his wife and launched Haven's Candies from their Forest Avenue home.


Over the years, the company has had six owners, including Shelby Putnam, now 76, who owned Haven's from 1970 to 1990.

Today, Putnam works part time as Haven's plant engineer. He described Haven's as a respected "old Portland" company that is "well-embedded in the community." For instance, he said that during World War II, Haven's sent candies to U.S. soldiers around the globe.

Haven's reputation and deep Portland roots were reasons Charles bought the company in 2001 from the previous owners, Bill and Molly Webster.

"I saw this as an opportunity to get involved in an existing, well-respected brand," Charles said. "I consider myself a caretaker of a Maine brand."

He declined to discuss the purchase price, but said he bought the company partly with loans from Norway Savings Bank and the Small Business Administration.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A lobster dinner, made entirely of chocolate and other sweets, is among the special treats created at Haven’s.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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