I had a sweet experience at the H.E. Williams Candy Company in the South Norfolk area near Chesapeake, Virginia — and the candy was even sweeter. H.E. Williams is a third-generation family-owned company that has been operating since 1919. They make candy the old-fashioned way, mostly by hand, in a one-room 4,000 square-foot factory. They even use the same recipe their grandfather, the company founder, used when the company began.
I visited the H.E. Williams Candy Company as part of a press trip with Visit Chesapeake. All opinions are my own.
I have never been a big fan of hard candy, but my visit to H.E. Williams Candy Company changed my mind. Their candy is delicious, has excellent flavor, and in many cases, features an added twist of flavor inside the hard candy.
The Williams family uses the same recipe the company founder used back in 1919. Their candy is made in 100-pound batches and there is no skimping on quality. They use 30 pounds of corn syrup, 70 pounds of sugar, and a gallon of water to make each batch.
They cook the candy in the same copper pots their grandfather used when he started the business. They use the same taffy-pulling machine he’s used since 1908.
H.E. Williams is known for their famous Peach Buds. This particular hard candy is peach-flavored and filled with a chewy coconut mix. It smells delectable when it is being made and tastes even better. I purchased several bags of these tasty candies to bring home with me.
Other flavors include Mint Puffs, Pineapple Lumps, and Fancy Mix. My favorites were the Banana, Hot Rocks, and the Peach Buds.
They also make a few soft, chewy candies such as the Coconut Tricolors.
The day we visited, brothers David and Joe Williams were making a batch of delicious Peach Buds. David told us about the company’s history and explained the process as they went about making the tasty treats.
Their grandfather started the Candy Company when he thought he would lose his job. By the 1930s, the company employed over 100 workers in the original factory along the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. They sold the candy all across the U.S.
Their grandfather installed railroad tracks on each end of the factory to keep pace with demand. Sugar and syrup were delivered directly to the back of the factory by train. They loaded the trains with delicious candy at the front.
Over the years, things changed and candy sales plummeted during the war. For a while, part of the factory was rented out to others. Along came I-464, and the factory had to move east in 1982. They downsized and moved into a smaller building where they are currently located.
Their family has been making specialty hard candy in South Norfolk for over 100 years. Every single step was done by hand when their grandfather started the company. The equipment and methods haven’t changed in over a century. It is still done mostly by hand, but instead of two humans lifting the heavy hot cauldrons of liquid candy, they use a hoist or pulley. They also added a motor to the ribbon machine that previously required a self-operated hand crank.
The ingredients are mixed by hand, the candy log fed into the ribbon machine is still assembled by hand, the breaking up of the candy is done by hand, and it is bagged, labeled, and shipped by hand.
Have you ever wondered how hard candy is made? We go to the store and buy candy; not much of our thought goes into how it is made.
We were able to get up close to see the fascinating process of hard candy being made the old-fashioned way.
At H.E. Williams Candy Company, ingredients for the hard candy are mixed in the old copper pots. While it is cooking, they combine 20 pounds of coconut mixture and cook it. They also mix up the colors for the hard candy. The day we visited, they used orange, yellow, and red for the Peach Buds.
The mixture is then boiled until it is thoroughly blended and reaches the required temperature. Once the candy liquid has reached 301 degrees Fahrenheit, they use the pulley to lift the pot and pour it onto cooling trays with cold water running under the surface. Then, they smooth it out.
Now it is time to add the colors. Each third of the batch is yellow, orange, and red respectively. Once it begins to cool and harden on the bottom, they start separating the colored candy and folding each section up, then kneading it like bread to ensure the color is mixed, finally forming it into a big ball. Each of the balls weighs between 33 and 50 pounds.
They use a 1908 taffy-spinning machine that has been spinning their candy since the company began. Spinning improves the coloration and adds air to the candy. The flavor is also added during the spinning process.
Then, they layer and stack the colored candy, add the coconut mixture, and wrap the candy around the coconut. It is rolled out to create a log of sweet candy that is still warm and has the consistency of taffy. They feed this into a ribbon machine that crimps it and creates a ribbon of hard candy.
It is then deposited onto a conveyor belt to continue cooling and hardening. At the end of the conveyor, it is deposited onto another tray where they break up the pieces before it is completely cooled.
As you can imagine, the candy smell was heavenly, sweet, and delicious during this process.
Once the candy is cold, it is bagged and labeled for sale with simple white cardstock labels.
How To Purchase
This factory makes candy the old-fashioned way, and they also run their business that way. They don’t have a website, they don’t advertise, and they don’t accept credit cards.
Word of mouth is their best advertisement. Word spreads when you have an excellent product. Leading up to the holiday season, they make candy 7 days a week to keep up with demand. David said, “If we advertised, we would have to hire more people and get a larger building.”
They don’t even have a computer. Their modern equipment is a telephone and answering machine. They have a Facebook page that is usually active from October through December.
You can visit their candy company and purchase items straight from the candy-making floor. Or call and give them your order. When they receive your check or money order in the mail, they will ship the hard candy to you. You can buy a bag or purchase multiple bags in bulk. When purchasing in larger quantities, you can mix and match flavors. After your visit or first order, I bet you will be like me and love their delicious hard candy.
If you desire some for the holidays to give as a gift or keep for your enjoyment, H.E. Williams Candy Company in South Norfolk is the place to get it!
Pro Tip: The best time to visit would be between October and December when they make multiple batches each day and have the widest variety. Check their Facebook page to be sure of business hours.
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