What’s better than saltwater taffy? If you ask John Zeno Louizes, it’s more saltwater taffy.
The third-generation owner of Zeno’s World’s Most Famous Taffy followed in the footsteps of his father, Zeno, and his great-uncle, Thomas Nougaras, and took over the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based company in 2003.
When Zeno’s opened in 1948, the company had 12 flavors. Under John’s direction, the company now offers 101 flavors – more than any company in the world.
“Eventually we’ll have twice that many,” John said. “It’s great to have so many different flavors, and we encourage customers to sample whatever they want. They quickly realize our products are not like the hard, mass-produced taffy they had when they were kids. Ours is softer and always fresh, and our customers are amazed at how each flavor is spot-on.”
Vanilla, Chocolate and Banana are Zeno’s best-sellers, but their taffy offerings span from classic to creative. Among them are Apple Fritter, Beer, Mimosa, German Chocolate Cake and Sangria.
As business grew, Zeno’s 125-sq.-ft. production space – and hand-fed machine, producing 110 pieces per minute – just weren’t cutting it. The company moved production to a 5,000-sq.-ft. facility in Daytona Beach to keep up with demand.
“The three machines we have today can make about four times as much in the same timeframe, and there is much more room to work,” John said.
While much of Zeno’s business comes from four retail shops in Daytona Beach, St. Augustine and Madeira Beach, the company’s candy is sold in stores all over the country. Online sales are also exploding, with the company shipping more than 100,000 pounds all over the world.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
Although our Fruit Punch saltwater taffy is at the top of my list, I really, really love Lindt chocolate truffles. A variety pack of those would be ideal.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
A blooper reel from the TV show “The Office.”
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up watching my father grow the business and stretch taffy by hand. I knew my destiny from a young age; I wanted to be a candy maker just like generations before me. Basically, I have known my entire life that THIS is what I wanted to do forever.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
As Zeno’s is transitioning from a retailer to a manufacturer, it has been quite an ordeal getting up to speed and learning about all of the different rules and regulations. It is all a learning process. Nothing is impossible, and ensuring we have everything under control is what is most important.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
The E-myth-Revisited. To me, this is a great and quick read for any small business owners.
What is your pet peeve?
Those who lack accountability and hypocrites.
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
The Albanese family at Albanese Candy. They are a great group of people who make fantastic candy. They are the ideal candidate as a role model in the candy business.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Hire people who are better than you at the task you hired them for and get out of their way, but always make sure to check and verify!
What excites you most about your job?
I live, eat and sleep the candy business, and love every minute of it. I am so passionate about working in a family business. I love that I am able to spend every day with them while I enjoy my every minute of my career.