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Andrianos family carries on rich sweet tradition at Hercules Candy

By Mary Beth Roach

Steve Andrianos in the basement of his candy shop. “Candy making is a form of art, and in some places, a lost art.”
Steve Andrianos in the basement of his candy shop.
“Candy making is a form of art, and in some places, a lost art.”

Steve Andrianos and his wife, Terry, are carrying on a sweet tradition from the same home that has been in his family for decades.

Situated on West Heman Street in the village of East Syracuse is the home of Hercules Candy, where the couple makes and markets their candy, and also where they live.

As one enters the main floor, the smell is intoxicating. Every nook is stocked with hard candies and chocolates — bags and boxes of chocolate-covered animal crackers, potato chips, and nuts, just to name a few, and then individual chocolate candy cast from various molds, including fire trucks, smiley faces, roses, motorcycles and even cows and pigs.

Displayed atop the shelves are molds that are no longer usable, many of which have worn thin over the years.

“This is the place people come in, look around, and you can hear them laughing,” Steve Andrianos said.

In the basement is where all the confections are created and where Andrianos spends hours producing candy. He often uses the same stoves, counters and equipment his grandfather and father used a generation before.

His grandfather, Robert, from Greece, immigrated to Boston. There, as a teenager, he learned how to make candy at the Boston Candy Company.    Eventually he left there and set up a soda, ice cream and candy shop in Fulton. When the Depression hit, Robert brought the business to the house, and it’s been here ever since, Andrianos said.

According to the candy company’s website, Robert renamed the shop in 1945 as the Hercules Candy Company, in honor of his father, Hercules.

Andrianos father had closed the shop in 1972, but Andrianos reopened it in 1977.

He started making candy with his father at the age of 12 and always dreamt of running the show.

In 1977, when he was 21, he saved up $500 and bought some ingredients and reopened Hercules Candies using the same equipment and utensils that had been idle for five years.

“It took me a long time to master the art of making ribbon candy — to get it thin enough and get the flavors just right. Growing up, I learned how to make many different kinds of candy from my family and our customers were so happy to see Hercules Candies operating once more,” he said.

Over the years, various relatives have lent a hand in the candy making to keep Hercules Candies an Andrianos family tradition.

‘Lost art’

“Candy making is a form of art, and in some places, a lost art,” Andrianos said. “We make candy the way it was made in the early 1900s — all by hand without any machines. We roast our own nuts on the premises and purchase our ingredients directly from the source from which they originate — not through a middleman. This way, the freshness and quality of our candy speak for itself.”

“After high school, I worked at Carrier Corporation,” Andrianos said. “I remember looking down at the guy retiring and I thought, ‘I can’t do that.’ I realized how good it was working here. I couldn’t see myself doing that. This is what I like to do.”

It’s a good thing he does since his work days during peak time — from the few weeks leading up to Christmas through Easter — Adrianos figures he works 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

“There’s no snow days,” Adrianos said, chuckling.

During slower times, he works about eight hours a day, giving him time to enjoy one of his hobbies — home beer brewing.

His favorite candy to make, he said, is ribbon candy, a hard candy popular during Christmas. It took years for Adrianos to master the technique, pulling and twisting the candy, getting it the proper thickness, cutting at the right length, and shaping it into just the right size.

“My father and uncles would make it on the counters. I’d step in and probably mess it up and step back. You have to practice a little bit at a time. My wife learned how to twist with two fingers to make the ribbon candy. That took some time. It’s not that easy. You only have between 4 to 5 seconds to twist it, otherwise it stays in that position,” he explained.

The popularity of ribbon candy had been on the decrease, Andrianos admitted, but then his son, Craig, posted a video on YouTube showing his parents making the candy from start to finish. The video has already had tens of thousands of views.

“Now people realize how we make it and all of a sudden they’re flocking in,” Andrianos said.

Several years ago, they added a new flavor of ribbon candy to their selections — peanut butter. Andrianos said a candy maker in Cortland was retiring and had called him about making this version.

He passed along his tips for how to make the new version. Coincidentally, Terry, 53, who grew up in Preble, said this is the same candy maker who owned the shop where her mother used to get her Easter candy.

While the ribbon candy might be his favorite to make, his favorite to eat is the chocolate truffles. “They’re awesome,” Andrianos said.

The assorted chocolates are probably their signature candy, since they are all hand-dipped and hand-decorated, Terry said.

At 61, Andrianos  plans to continue the tradition, saying that he has no intention of retiring.

“I like doing it. After all these years, I’m finally good at it,” he said. “There’s pride in that.”