Brothers are sweet on tradition

For some people in Philadelphia, the holidays aren’t complete without the Berley brothers’ clear-toy candies. The treats molded into intricate figurines can only be made when the weather turns dry and cold as the brothers keep alive a century-old tradition.

Six years ago, Eric Berley and his brother, Ryan, opened Franklin Fountain, an old-time ice cream and soda shop near Penn’s Landing. But they needed more space to make ice cream and candy, so they bought Shane Confectionary next door. That candy store had been continuously run by the Shane family since 1911. The brothers are bringing the shop back to its original turn-of-the-century condition.

“Hey, why not get into a fun new business like candy,” said Eric Berley. “And throw in historical preservation.”

While the downstairs shop is being restored, the original candy-making equipment in the second-floor kitchen is operational. The industrial gas rings were made in the 1920s specifically to handle special copper pots used to boil sugar.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Those are hand-made pots,” said Ryan Berley. “So the actual materials and tools are hand-made, like the candies are.”

Ryan Berley himself looks like a relic from the past, wearing a jaunty bowtie and a generous application of Brylcreem, as he heats a sugar syrup that will be poured into iron molds made in the 19th century. After cooling, the hard candies will pop out in the shapes of delicate sailboats, horses, rabbits, a steam fire engine, a bicycle.

“Carrying those traditions on is part of us identifying ourselves as Americans,” he says. “This is an American tradition, just as a soda fountain is American tradition. Americans need our own traditions that we can pass onto our own children and grandchildren.”

Those American traditions are seemingly recession-proof as Franklin Fountain expands into its new, old-fashioned digs.

At the end of the day, Ryan Berley says, people will always want ice cream.

To see how clear toy candies are made watch the audio slide show below.  (Photography by Todd Vachon)

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal