Among Nash County’s growing circle of entrepreneurs, Dena Manning is known as The Candy Lady. Thanks to her, an iconic North Carolina candy company is back in business, and a new generation of candy connoisseurs is discovering the distinctive taste of its hard sweet candy treats.
Four years ago, Manning rescued Butterfields Traditional Candy Co. from bankruptcy, where the previous owner had taken it in 2009. She risked just about everything she had – savings from her career with the Durham County court system, a modest inheritance from her grandmother and a small investment from her former father-in-law.
What she got were four big copper kettles, a few vintage stainless steel tables and cooling trays and some creaky conveyor belts and packaging equipment — all gathering dust in a bright blue metal building off a country road in western Nash County. With them came the company’s most valuable assets — the secret recipes first formulated in the 1920’s along with exclusive rights to make the whole family of Butterfields Buds, featuring the Peach Bud, the Bud that made the family famous.
Her friends thought she’d gone mad. But she knew something they didn’t. She knew Butterfields Buds had been beloved by four generations of kids in the Carolinas. She knew they’d been a staple of small-town adolescence, as much a part of growing up as baseball cards and Barbie Dolls. She also knew that as recently as the late 1990s, Butterfields had churned $3 million in sales. With the unshakable faith of a true entrepreneur, she knew she could take it there again.
It took another year to get the plant cleaned up and the machinery repaired and running.
Today she and her seven employees – including her youngest son, Harry – produce about 1,200 pounds of Buds per day.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
My candy of choice would be to have a bag or more of Mary Janes. I have always loved those candies for their nuttiness and sweet honey flavor.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
My main concern with the confectionery industry is how to market my brand in today’s world that is so fast changing, and people are so eager for the newest, latest, most different thing to come out. The changes today are so rapid fire it is difficult to keep up with, and I wonder where the tried and true, authentic and classic candies can find their place.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
I don’t have time to read long novels or history books as I did before I started this company, but the last book I read that I enjoyed tremendously was the written version of “The Moth,” which is an NPR show where people from all walks of life tell a story that changed their life or meant something to them in a deep, influential way.
What is your pet peeve?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice is to know that the best place to be in business was being in the middle. You don’t want to be at the beginning and you don’t want to be at the end.
What excites you most about your job?
I love my job, and what excites me most is listening to the next person call me, tell me about the first time they had a Peach Bud, how happy they are to know that the candies are back, and they personally thank me for it. Its’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to know that such a little candy can bring such joy.