Family tradition, three generations strong
December 18, 2009
It’s rare to find candy shops that can boast of three generations of candymaking. Travel to Gateway, Ark., and Martin Greer will gladly tell you about his family history while showcasing his line of top-notch treats, including P-Nut Brittle, Tempters, Chocolate Pecan Fudge, assorted barks and chocolates.
The company’s rich family heritage dates back to 1924, which is when Martin L. Greer Sr. began making candy at the family farm and selling it - along with produce he’d take into town - to make a few dollars. The profitable enterprise inspired him to apprentice with two Greek candymakers: James and George Bathis in Texarkana, Texas. There, he learned to spin stick candy.
Greer Sr. eventually expanded his experience, working throughout Texas. He ended up at the Striplings Department Store, working for Price Candy Co. in Fort Worth, Texas. Another mentor, Melvin Young, helped the senior Greer fine-tune the art of soft candymaking.
“When I was a little baby, my mother and dad laid me on a stick candy table,” Greer says. “As a young boy I learned daily from my father how to make his delicious candies. He told me to always start with the finest and freshest ingredients I could buy, and then follow the recipes faithfully.”
Interestingly, those recipes come from “Rigby’s Reliable Teacher,” which was published in 1897. Author Will Rigby explained that the recipes contained in his book were derived from original recipes used by his father 30 years earlier.
Not only does Greer use Rigby’s authentic recipes, but his equipment also dates back to that era. It includes a taffy wrapper circa 1917, a cream beater from 1900 and a candy former that’s been motorized from 1853.
“I like to say that Dad learned candymaking the hard way, and I learned the easy way, from him, but it wasn’t easy working for Dad,” Greer says. “When I was 15, Dad first taught me how to cook caramel. Back then we spoon-tested every batch. Now I’ve taught my 18-year-old son, Uriah, how to do it using a laser thermometer.”
Aside from some modern-day conveniences such as the laser thermoter and Hilliard dipping pots, Greer and his son still cook candy “much like they did a hundred years ago.”
And it’s very much a family affair, with Greer’s wife, Jeanette, hand-dipping and -packing chocolates, while Uriah works in the kitchen as his brother, Joshua, greets customers with a tray of samples.
Aside from being a candymaker, Greer also was an educator for 39 years, working as a teacher, principal and superintendent. His passion has been and still is art, which he continues to express in a variety of forms, including chocolate and sugar.
What did you think you would be when you grew up?
A teacher, an artist and a candymaker, all of which I’ve become.
Name one or some of your favorite movies.
“Flower and Drum Song,” the original “Willy Wonka,” “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Describe your dream vacation.
I would love to go to Switzerland.
What book are you currently reading?
The Bible and my son’s manuscripts.
Aside from a family member, whom would you most want to be stranded with on a deserted island?
When I was younger, I could answer that.
What’s your pet peeve?
I wish when candy people come into our store they would tell me they are in the business so we could have an enjoyable visit.
I’d give anything to meet:
I have been fortunate to meet many famous people in my life. I would love to have met Walt Disney. My students and I have made 12 animated cartoon movies. I love the art medium.
The best piece of advice that I’ve gotten:
Dad always said, “Take care of your business and your customers, and your business will take care of you.”
What excites you most about your job?
Creating the best candy we can possibly make and meeting so many nice people.