There’s a great new exhibit at the Main Public Library downtown called Cinema Cincinnati, curated by librarian Brian Powers. It documents the wonderful history of theatres in Cincinnati and is an amazing collection of historic photos. One of the photos in the exhibit of the Orpheum Theatre in Walnut Hills shows the Malas Brothers Candy Shop next to it, which operated there from about 1916 to 1948.
I was so excited to discover that shot in the exhibit. Last summer, I had found a chocolate box from this Malas Brothers Candy store at a Westwood market for my traveling Cincinnati Candy Museum, which I use in my presentations on Cincinnati Candy history. I had never seen a photo of the shop.
In Cincinnati, before the advent of the mega movie theatres, Candy Shops and Chili Parlors chose locations next to or within quick walking distance of a theatre. Candy shops were usually a combination of sandwich shop, soda fountain and confectionery, giving theatre goers an after show hangout, just like the chili parlors. Both were closely related, as their owners were Greek and Macedonian immigrants. In Cincinnati, and elsewhere, starting in the 1910s, candy shops used to be owned by immigrants from the area of Sparta Greece. Names like Mehas, Aglamesis, and Drivikas were in neon marquees at candy shops in Cincinnati. It wasn’t necessarily that immigrants from Sparta had knowledge of candy or ice cream making. It was that their countrymen who had immigrated the earliest found these low capital, easy-to-start industries to get their start in America.
The Malas brothers were John C, Peter, George, and James and they operated four candy shops from 1916 to 1948 in Cincinnati. Their flagship store was at 913 East McMillen in Walnut Hills near to the bustling Peebles Corner and next to the Orpheum Theatre. Other stores were at Enright Avenue in Price Hill, and in the Norwood Theatre district at 4907 Montgomery Road. They had immigrated to America in 1905 from Geraki, Sparta, Greece, and joined the community of Sparta immigrants who owned candy shops in Cincinnati.
Malas Brothers represents how interconnected all these Greek family-owned candy shops were in Cincinnati. John Malas was married to the daughter of Nicholas Farres, who immigrated to Cincinnati from Greece in 1904 and operated a confectionery at 1223 Vine in Corryville until he retired in 1933. Farres got his start with an ice cream cart and then moved to his brick and morter store, which he operated with sons John and Andrew. His son Andrew bought out the Pullman Sweet Shop at 2629 Vine Street in 1945, that had operated there since 1929. Nicholas Ferras’ wife was Mary Mehas, from the Mehas Brothers Greek confectionery family that owned a flagship store on Fountain Square near the Albee Theatre.
Another Malas brother, George was married to Margaret Harritos, daughter of Pete Harritos, who also ran a candy shop at 37 East 6th Street Downtown.
The Malas brothers probably learned the business from their respective fathers-in-law and went out on their own. Malas made chocolate creams (probably our beloved opera creams), chocolate covered hazelnuts (then called filberts), brazil, and pecans, and candied fruits. They were all active in the Cincinnati Greek Community – helping raise funds for the Greek War Effort, and supporting their church, the St. Nicolas-Holy Trinity Orthodox church that throws the amazing Panegyri Festival every June. They were even part of the Candy Day (the precursor to October Sweetest Day) Committee that distributed free candy to orphanages, old folks homes, and the poor.
We can thank these Greek immigrant candy shops for proliferating our beloved Cincinnati Opera Cream, the Nectar Soda, and introducing us to the old tradition of having a chocolate mint after a meal of Cincinnati Chili.