Doscher’s Candies has been a Cincinnati staple for more than a century. Yet there are still locals who aren’t aware that the company, founded in 1871 by Claus Doscher, is the maker of French Chew, the popular taffy that generations of candy lovers grew up purchasing at drug stores, swim clubs and mom-and-pop joints across the region.
“We get so many people who come in and say, ‘Wow, French Chew is made right here? I had no idea.’ I said the same thing before I bought the company.”
Those are the words of Greg Clark, a lifelong Cincinnati resident who purchased Doscher’s Candies from Claus Doscher’s descendants 10 years ago.
“I grew up eating French Chew,” Clark says. “My mom would give me a dollar for the day, and I would by four French Chews at the swim club.”
For the uninitiated, the classic French Chew bars come in four flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana (the latter of which Clark introduced a few years back). Each is about the size of a 6-inch ruler — if the ruler were made of sugary ingredients that could be stretched and twisted when unwrapped from packaging that has featured the same smiling boy’s face since 1918. (They’ve been making bite-sized versions of the candy for five years, also featuring that happy, freckled boy-in-a-bullseye mascot.)
After embarking on a career in finance, Clark got the itch to try his hand at the candy business, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise — his father was one of the partners in the locally produced Marshmallow Cones in the 1970s.
“I always wanted to have my own business,” Clark says. “I looked at a few opportunities, but they were never the right timing or the right situation.
And then this just presented itself, so I took that leap of faith, so to speak, and came down here.”
By “down here” he means Doscher’s space on Court Street between Vine and Race streets, which has been the company’s location since 1940 (and which is just a few blocks from its original home). The space hasn’t changed much over the years. In fact, Clark and his small full-time team still use some of the same equipment Claus Doscher’s crew used. And, of course, they still use the same recipe.
“We still make everything in small batches, mixed in copper kettles that date back to the late 1800s,” Clark says.
At its apex, Doscher’s made nine different types of candies and employed hundreds. Today, Clark focuses on French Chew and candy canes, the latter of which has recently become more important to the business. When he took over Doscher’s, their product was 90 percent French Chew and 10 percent candy canes. Now it’s about 60 percent French Chew and 40 percent candy canes.
The candy canes have been a hit at Kroger, which is far and away Doscher’s biggest client.
“The best thing we ever did was add the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ stamp, because it entices that buyer,” Clark says of the candy cane packaging. “Most people realize that’s rare, and then they need it and they just fall in love with it. It’s almost like a cult following. They ask, ‘Do you put crack inside your candy canes?’ It is so addicting to eat them. I’m not a peppermint fan, but when I started eating them it just became so addicting that you can’t stop.”
There’s a reason they’re addicting, and it has nothing to do with crack — each cane is handcrafted down to the hook, which is often formed by Clark’s wife.
“Our quality is 10-times different because of how we do it,” Clark says. “Our candy cane ends up being more crunchy, chewy. The eating experience is completely different. It’s the way it always was up until the 1980s when things became mass-produced and the quality suffered. We didn’t change. Same recipe, same ingredients we’ve been using for a hundred years.”
Clark admits it’s getting tougher to find wholesalers with the demise of small mom-and-pop places. But, with the rise in popularity of locally sourced products, there’s still a decent-sized niche market for specialty items like Doscher’s.
“We’ve stayed the same, and I think that’s why we’re getting a lot of attention, because there is a call for quality,” Clark says. “Walmart would never pick up our canes, nor would we ever sell candy canes to Walmart or Target, because they’ve got 12 of them for 99 cents; that’s all some people want. Our five-count box retails for $3.79. Kroger was concerned that would be a little pricey, but let’s try that and see. Guess what? It sold through just fine.”
Asked if he’s committed to extending Doscher’s legacy far into the future, Clark answers in the affirmative.
“It’s challenging, but we don’t know any better,” Clark says. “We’ve never been in a big factory where things are more automated. This is the way we do it.”
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