By Jane Bartnett
When a worldwide candy cane shortage threatened to make the region’s holiday season a bit less sweet, Siesta Key’s very own Fudge Factory saved the day.
“America is running out of candy canes,” CNN declared days before Christmas.
“Candy Cane Shortage, 2021,” trumpeted a USA Today headline.
Supply-chain shortages, a lack of workers, and even a shortage of peppermint itself were to blame.
During the month of December, as it has for the past five years, the Fudge Factory presented its customers in the Siesta Key Village with the delicious, handmade red-white-and-green-striped peppermint candy canes for which they are known.
Peter Vrinios, a third-generation master confectioner, was a man on a mission to create the candy canes from enormous balls of sugary ingredients at the company’s larger Anna Maria Island shop, where the business expanded last spring.
“Peter saved the day for us with those candy canes,” said Maria Lygnos, the Fudge Factory’s Siesta Key manager and chocolatier.
Despite the shortage of peppermint elsewhere, Vrinios had a sufficient supply.
He learned the art of candy making from his father and Greek immigrant grandfather at their candy store in Champaign, Illinois, and makes his special candy cane recipe with the same kettles, tools and marble slab that his grandfather and father used.
“When I moved to Sarasota in 2004, I brought everything with me from my confectionery store in Illinois,” he said.
Creating handmade candy canes is a craft that requires the proper turn of the hand as the candy, made from water, sugar, oil, and a secret candy cane ingredient, cooks for 30 minutes in a large kettle on a hot stove at 400 degrees. When it reaches a taffy-like consistency, the thick liquid is the color of gold as it is poured onto a marble slab.
“It’s a physically challenging process,” Vrinios said.
As the candy cools and hardens, Vrinios sprinkles peppermint oil and blends it in. Wearing specially made gloves, he places the hot mixture on a large metal hook on the kitchen wall. For another 45 minutes, he pulls and stretches the candy while continuously looping it back on the hook. As it cools, the color gradually changes to a creamy white. When it reaches the right consistency, he places the heavy blob of candy canes to be onto the marble slab.
After separating the mixture into three separate pieces, Vrinios hands off two sections to his “candy cane elves.” One assistant adds red food die and the other adds green food die.
All three pieces are then kneaded like a loaf of unleavened bread. After rolling, stretching and kneading the three lumps together as one, the festive red, green and white stripes begin to appear. When the long roll of candy reaches the proper candy-cane width, it is cut into 100 separate pieces per batch and then shaped into canes.
“No two candy canes are alike,” Vrinios said.
Ben Kaminecki opened the Siesta Key Fudge Factory store in 2013 after establishing his first shop on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, in 2002. He owns all three locations.
Now that the busy winter season is upon us, the Fudge Factory is bustling all day long. Customers drop in to take home one of the shop’s 12 different hand-whipped creamy fudge selections that it creates each day, or to enjoy a scoop of homemade ice cream — although picking just one of the 45 ice cream flavors can be a challenge.
Customers also stare in awe at the glass cases filled with caramel apples, brittle, an endless array of candies, chocolate covered pretzels, and chocolate and caramel turtles that are also known in the Midwest as bear claws.
There is even a selection of chocolate-covered bacon.
“Candy makes people happy,” Lygnos said.
The smiling faces of those leaving the store with their sweet treasures proves her right.
From left are Fudge Factory employees Tamela Behm, Melissa Delaney, Ted Berg, and Peter Vrinios. (submitted photo)