Five questions with Dayton’s Mr. Candy.
Jim Day turns 90 on Feb. 8, but he has no plans to retire.
“My mom lived to 99 and 8 months and my dad lived to be 94,” says Day, president and owner of Esther Price Candies. “I’m going to work as long as I can.’’
In 1976, after a career in construction and land development, Day and three partners bought the candy business that Dayton’s Esther Price started in her kitchen in 1926. Day and his family became sole owners in 2006 when the last of his partners died. Two years ago, Day was inducted into the National Confectionery Sales Association’s Candy Hall of Fame.
What drew you to the candy business?
I wasn’t interested when my partners first brought it up. I said bring me a (profit and loss) statement. I took one look at it and said, “I’m in.” I liked what I saw. They were making money but not spending it. We didn’t know anything about making candy, but Esther and the people she had working for her did.
How has the business changed over the last 40 years?
One thing that hasn’t changed is the candy recipe. Esther laid down the facts to me all the time. Everything had to be natural and her way. She made me promise I wouldn’t change the recipes and we haven’t. We were voted best candy in Ohio three years in a row. We have a lot more customers today and we’re doing some new things.
For example, we teamed up with MikeSell’s Potato Chip Co. to market chocolate-coated potato chips. For the last four years we’ve teamed up with Warped Wing Brewing Co. on Esther’s Li’l Secret, a limited-release, specialty beer. We supply them with ingredients for the beer. This year it’s chocolate and opera crèmes for a winter ale.
Would Esther (who died in 1994) appreciate Esther’s Li’l Secret?
She’d drink a little bit, but it was mostly wine. I think she’d like the idea and that her name was on it. It gets our name out there and people remember you. You don’t want to have a business where people don’t remember your name.
What’s your favorite Esther Price candy?
Pretty much all of them, but I like the fudge pieces especially. We make a lot of brittles that are new and different. We made some pumpkin brittle and I said, “Gee, that doesn’t sound good at all.” But I tried it and it’s become a big seller. It tastes great.
Did it come as a surprise to be inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame?
You’re not kidding it was a surprise. It’s for candy makers all over the world, not just here in the United States. When they called and said I was nominated I was so happy I didn’t need anything else. But then when they called up and said I was one of the 10 finalists I couldn’t believe it. We’re talking the whole world now; how in the world did I ever earn that? I’m just a country kid.