Doscher’s Candy Co. Makes French Chews, Candy Canes and Candy Buttons Out of a Nostalgic Newtown Farmhouse

Inside Cincinnati's quaint confectioner

Feb 12, 2019 at 1:59 pm
click to enlarge Doscher's Candy Co. and candy factory - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Doscher's Candy Co. and candy factory

You can smell it before you see it. Outside the entrance to the oldest continuously operating candy company in the United States, the air is thick with the delicious scent of vanilla. 

On the first day of factory tours of the year, the team at Doscher’s Candy Co. in Newtown has been at work since 7 a.m. This week, they’re making nothing but vanilla French Chew taffy bars. The floor inside the factory is dusted with a fine white powder, which will undoubtedly be tracked out into the gift shop on the shoes of everyone who passes through.  

In the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, this crowd is comprised mainly of young kids and their parents. About a dozen little noses are pressed up against the windows as they peer into the kitchen. On the other side of the glass, three men are hard at work perfecting yet another batch of candy, using the same recipe and handmade method as when the company began production way back in 1871. 

click to enlarge A collection of Doscher's candy - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
A collection of Doscher's candy

French Chew taffy isn’t the only candy Doscher’s is known for. It’s also the oldest candy cane producer in the country, and one of only two companies that still makes candy canes in the U.S. They begin churning out peppermint candy canes in the early summer to fill orders for the holiday season, as well as flavors that have year-round appeal like blueberry, green apple and the ever-popular birthday cake. 

And in September 2018, Doscher’s acquired yet another classic American candy. After the Necco candy company went bankrupt, Doscher’s bought the Candy Button brand, saving the colorful little candy dots from extinction. A few tweaks were made for brighter colors and better flavors, but the candy already fit right in with the company’s style of confectionery as well as its nostalgic values.

Founded by Claus Doscher, a young German immigrant, the company began as Doscher Bros. Wholesale Confectioners and first opened on East Fifth Street downtown near where the Taft Theatre stands today. Operations later moved to a factory on Central Parkway before relocating again in 1946 to 24 W. Court St., where the company remained for 71 years. 

click to enlarge The historic Newtown farmhouse and Doscher's headquarters - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
The historic Newtown farmhouse and Doscher's headquarters

In 2017, Doscher’s expanded from their cramped downtown offices into a farmhouse that seems like it was pulled straight out of a storybook — delicate white trim surrounds pale-yellow brick, the doors are painted a bright cherry red and a pair of chimneys poke out of the roof. The house was built in 1835 as a private home, but it looks like it was destined to become a candy store. Doscher’s newest location not only has enough room for the factory and offices, but also a retail store and a quaint tea room that opens for lunch once a week. The 8,000-square-foot red barn out back allows for space to bring customers in to see this little piece of living history for themselves. 

Leading the tours is Greg Clark, Doscher’s vice president of business development and one of its owning partners. His official title lends to the belief that he’s all business, but just like everyone at Doscher’s, he’s a candy man at heart. He learned the art of old-fashioned candy making from Claus’ great-grandson Henry Doscher III when he came on board in 2003. 

“He was the nuts and bolts of the company,” Clark says of Henry. “The handmade approach the Doschers had and the careful craftsmanship of making candy is hard to learn. And learning it from the best, Mr. Doscher, who had been doing it his whole life, was just incredibly valuable.” 

click to enlarge Inside Doscher's - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Inside Doscher's

It may be difficult to master, but Doscher’s production style is pretty straightforward, seeing that they’ve been doing things more or less the same way since the company’s inception. They’re even using some of the same equipment: French Chews are made in small, 150-pound batches that are mixed in one of two copper kettles that have been used as long as Doscher’s has been in business. “They hold the secrets to the French Chews,” Clark says, and he estimates that together they’re probably worth more than the company itself.

There are currently 12 employees who work in the factory, but even the owners get involved in candy making. Doscher’s approach is “absolutely hands on,” Clark says. “My new partners who’ve come on about three years ago — same exact training. They get in the kitchen and they learn how to make the candy and work batches. (They) know all the ins and outs of everything there is to do with making the candy.” 

Production here is an exact science that was perfected over a century ago. It’s rare to find candy that’s still made with such care, but even though the location and ownership of the company has changed some in the past 147 years, little else has.

click to enlarge Inside Doscher's tearoom - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Inside Doscher's tearoom

From French Chews to candy canes to Candy Buttons, the process is a labor-intensive one from the moment ingredients are first added to the mixers to when the finished candy is wrapped, packaged and shipped off across the country. Sure, Doscher’s could probably increase its profits by adding more shifts to the workday or investing in fast machinery, but Clark says things are just as they should be. 

“There’s no cutting corners,” he says. “We can’t mass produce any of our candy because it’s done by hand…That’s a huge responsibility to continue that tradition but I realize how important it is not only to the company but to people who buy our candy. When you eat the candy, you can see a difference.” 

To Clark, this type of candy production means more than just making a sale. It’s about honoring the value of a Cincinnati tradition and sharing it with the city and beyond. It’s a legacy Doscher’s is happy to continue. 

“It’s very humbling,” he says. “We’re very proud.” 

Doscher’s Candy Co. is located at 6926 Main St., Newtown. More info: