It’s hard to believe that stepping into a factory that produces candy for 400 year-round and seasonal shops in 30-plus states and six countries outside the United States and has partnerships in 38 U.S. airports is like stepping back in time.
The See’s Candy factory in Baldwin Hills broke ground in 1949 and still uses some machines that were built in 1921, the year Charles See opened his first candy shop at 135 N. Western Ave. The facility exudes the same family welcome you get walking into a store today.
During its slower seasons, See’s employs about 2,000 people; that grows to nearly 7,000 employees at Christmas time, which accounts for 50 percent of the company's sales. Sales associates hand out 1 million pounds of free samples every year in the familiar black-and-white shops inspired by the original kitchen of Charles’ mother, Mary See.
The facility, located in the shadow of the Expo Line La Cienega station, has a number of employees who have worked there for 40 years or longer. Lou Ann Myerchin started in 1958, just a few years after Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance spent a day training in the factory’s kitchen for the iconic “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy. There’s one robot to flip sheets of brittle and a certain amount of automation, but the majority of the sweetness that moves down the belt is meticulously sorted and made by hand.
See's has been using Challenge butter for almost 100 years and, for a taste unique to See's, integrates honey as the secret ingredient in marshmallows made in-house for Scotch kisses and Rocky Road candies. California walnuts and almonds are staples.
On the day of our VIP tour, L.A. Weekly got a behind-the-scenes look past bubbling cauldrons of cream at how peanut brittle, bridge mix, Scotch kisses, butter chews, molasses chips and rum nougat are created before being trucked over to the Carson facility for distribution across the country.
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There is nothing like a warm, fresh Scotch kiss that melts in your mouth or the intoxicating smell of rum nougat as it stretches over stainless steel rollers. And don’t even get me started on the chocolate-covered roasted almonds, which are made from just those two ingredients. The peanut brittle is legendary, one of Mary's first recipes. Try crumbling it on top of homemade chocolate cupcakes.
The aroma of smooth, melting chocolate — See’s most important ingredient, as it uses more than 12 million pounds of the stuff every year — permeates the football field–sized facility as well as your clothes, staying with you for hours as you glide through your day smelling like a walking bon-bon.
Check out more photos here.