So what are you doing February 23rd?
I’m eating a Tootsie Roll.
To me, there’s nothing like deliciously celebrating the 120th birthday of the candy affectionally named for the nickname of Leo Hirschfeld’s 5-year old daughter, Clara “Tootsie” Hirschfeld.
Back in 1896, Leo Hirschfeld decided that what this country needed was a good penny candy that could be easily wrapped and unwrapped at both ends. Hence the birth of the Clara, I mean the Tootsie Roll. Leo was a European immigrant who settled in Brooklyn. He loved living the sweet life in more ways than one, and so even owned a candy store. He also was involved in inventing and designing candy machines for a company named Stern & Sallberg. On February 23rd, 1896, Hirschfeld invented the Tootsie Roll and thanks to the company’s belief in the early use of advertising, his creation quickly became a popular candy hit. Unlike typical chocolate candy which couldn’t withstand the heat without melting, the cylinder-shaped taffy chocolate-like creation of Clara’s Dad wouldn’t even melt in your mouth, let alone your hands. After Hirschfeld’s company era ended, along came Bernard Rubin who was a supplier to the newly named Sweets Company of America and wound up buying the firm when it appeared that, believe it or not, Tootsie Rolls sales were sluggish. But not for long. Bernard’s daughter Ellen, along with her husband Melvin Gordon wound up running the successful company for decades with Ellen still continuing to keep Tootsie Rolls in the family, having become the CEO following Melvin’s recent passing. So how’s business? Sixty four million Tootsie Rolls are produced every day. And you can still buy a piece for a penny. They are sold around the world. And after over a century, Tootsie Rolls, including Tootsie Pops are now officially Kosher. The OU symbol is on every wrapper.
Interestingly, though not necessarily Kosher, Jewish-created and even Jewish-owned candy brands have been a major part of candy counters and candy stores for generations. According to Tablet Magazine, a gentleman by the name of Sam Born came to New York from Russia in 1910. Even if you don’t know his name, you know his creations: Marshmallow Peeps, Mike & Ike candies, and Eskimo Pies to name a few. Recognize the names Abraham, Ira, Philip and Joseph Shorin?
You no doubt have chewed on some of their successes including Bazooka Bubble Gum and Topps Gum featuring those collectable and valuable baseball cards. Then there’s David Goldenberg. He came to Philadelphia from Vienna in 1880 and created Peanut-Chews just in time to get government contracts for World War I American soldiers to enjoy his nutritious creation.
Did you know there’s even a Candy Hall of Fame with annual inductions of, one might say, confectionary celebrities? Edger R. Goldenberg was one industry inductee. No doubt at their yearly glittery black-tie gala events, all the new inductees smile and say sugary words of sweet appreciation. Do you think dentists are ever invited?
So where do you go today to grab some of your favorite kosher candy treats? The corner candy stores of our childhoods have virtually disappeared. Today’s candy displays in stores and supermarkets don’t often showcase the variety of confectionary treats. But I’ve been to two better options where I thoroughly enjoyed their museum-like qualities. One is on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Moishe Cohen opened a shop named Economy Candy back in 1937. His son Mitchell runs the store, now located 108 Rivington Street. The other is called Bobb Howard’s General Store and is attached to a car repair business! It’s on Long Island at 581 Lakeville Road in New Hyde Park. Both stores will have you and your family easily and deliciously reminiscing down memory lane.
Of course the next time you pass by a candy counter, chew on this. As you enjoy your Tootsie Rolls, or perhaps a Marshmallow Peep, or maybe while you are blowing your Bazooka bubble as you read the latest Bazooka Joe comic, you can pause and smile with sweet ethnic pride.