We all know that Greeks and Macedonians had their influence in the Cincinnati chili business. However, one food industry that’s less known for their influence, is their near monopoly of the candy industry Greeks had in the early to mid 20th century. What’s funnier is that Greeks are not known for their candy confections. Sure they have as wonderful baking tradition with baklava and cookies, but they don’t have a candy tradition. Their tormentors, the Turks were much more known for their sweets like Turkish delights or ‘rahat’, a candy based on a gel of starch and sugar, with nuts and dried fruits embedded. The Turks also claim the invention of baklava, but who’s keeping score?! The confection business in Greece is virtually unknown, so how did the Greeks get so involved in it in the U.S.? Well, they went into the business in which their earlier compatriots had been successful. They worked at their fellow immigrants’ candy shops and then opened their own, much like the chili pioneers, most of whom worked at the original Empress Chili Parlor before opening their own.
There’s a long standing tradition of eating a 15 cent York Peppermint Patty after a bowl of Cincinnati chili to quiet the spices and freshen your breath. But how did this tradition start?
For the Greek immigrants, ice cream and candy went hand in hand. The American ice cream Sunday, integrating fruits like cherries, pineapples, and other ‘fancy fruits’ is a Greek invention according to community folklore. Like the creation of Cincinnati chili, Greek confectioners played to an American audience, selling and making traditional American confections like caramel, taffy, chocolates, and hard candies. The Greek Confectioner’s Association even urged their members to blend in with American clients in a proclamation in the early 20th century. This ensured their success in a very xenophobic society in America before and around the first World War.
And they innovated. Leo Stefanos, a Greek immigrant in Chicago, and owner of the Dove Candy Shop in 1939, invented the much loved chocolate covered Dove ice cream bar. Another Greek immigrant, Thomas Andreas Carvelas invented a machine in 1935 for soft serve ice cream and started the Carvel’s Ice Cream franchise business.
By 1906 Chicago was the candy wholesaling capital of the U.S. The Greek community was operating 900 candy shops. According to a 1915 editorial published in the Salonika Greek Press: “On every great business corner in Chicago you will find the brightly lighted, clean, neat and attractive Greek confectionary store . . .almost two thirds of the confectionary business of Chicago is in the hands of the Greeks.” Chicago’s McCormick Place still hosts the largest candy show in the U.S. every year, the Sweet and Snacks Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioner’s Association.
In Cincinnati, our long running candy and ice cream companies were founded by Greeks. Aglamesis brothers Thomas and Nicholas from Sparta, Greece, started the candy and ice cream business that still exists in Oakley.
Charles Ponticos immigrated to Cincinnati from Greece in 1912 and operated candy and ice cream shops in Elmwood Place and Northside. In 1921 he formed the Cupid Ice Cream Co., specializing in the production of ice cream novelties for truck sales and pushcart peddlers. He worked with his son, Jim, until they sold it to French Bauer Ice Cream in 1966, who’s ice cream dominated the soda fountains of Greater Cincinnati before Graeters and United Dairy Farms became dominant.
Nicholas Sarakatsanis, the founder of Dixie Chili, operated a candy shop in Mansfield, Ohio, before coming to Cincy and working for the Kiradjieffs at Empress Chili.
The Papas Candy Company was established by Chris A. Papas (1894-1984), Macedonian immigrant who came the to the U. S. in 1909. After a brief stint in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Papas opened his candy making company to Covington, Kentucky, in 1935. The store was located on Madison Avenue was named Lily’s in honor of his wife. Lily’s offered hand made chocolates, ice cream and a soda fountain.
Around 1950, the factory relocated to a new building at 921 Baker Street in Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, on the site of the Lewisburg Brewery. In August 1951, Chris A. Papas retired. His daughter, Katherine Papas Hartmann took over the operation of Lily’s. His son, Alex, took over the wholesale business on Baker Street which he named Chris A. Papas and Sons. Papas and Sons quickly became know for its dark chocolate Easter eggs, opera creams and marshmallow eggs. During peak production, the company can produce 80,000 eggs per day.
Middletown, Ohio, just to the north of Cincinnati had the Elite Ice Cream and Candy company, opened by the Revelos brothers, James, John, Nick and Charles in 1909. They were immigrants from the small village of Kosmo, near Sparta, Greece, and operated the business for nearly 40 years.
Anthony Zanetos, immigrated from Greece in 1907 to Columbus, Ohio, and formed the Anthony-Thomas Candy Company in 1952, now operated by the fourth generation of the family. They are the largest commercial producers of Ohio’s beloved buckeye candy.
So perhaps this large connection to the Greek dominated U.S. candy industry is why the York Peppermint Patty is paired at Skyline chili parlors. The Clifton Skyline Chili parlor reports it goes through 1600 peppermint patties a week. Another anonymous Skyline location confessed to selling three to four boxes of 175 patties per day. Averaging two boxes per day times 84 Skyline locations in Greater Cincinnati an admittedly rough estimate was reached of 29,400 YPD (Yorks Per Day). That’s 882,000 patties per 30-day month and 10,731,000 per year.
Who started the tradition is hard to say, but certainly it was someone who had a cousin , brother, or in-law, that owned a Greek candy store and was helping them out.