Celebrations of longevity tend to be joyous occasions. Whether it’s a 1-year old or a 101-year-old, there’s nothing like a birthday cake with candles and some champagne (for the parents of the one-year-old and guests, of course).
Life can be full of challenges, so time to assess the joy of living is always welcome, even more so when you can count a half a century of experiences. It’s even more important when you run a business. Those of you who have can certainly attest to the pleasures and pains of startups as well as survival.
Our October issue features Piedmont Candy Co. on the cover. It’s been in existence for more than 125 years. And earlier in the year, we reported on Birnn Chocolates of Vermont celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Not everyone, however, makes it. Having grown up in Chicago, I know all about the end of dynasties, be they in sports, politics and/or confectionery companies. Those of you 50 and older can still remember The Windy City being the “Candy Capital of the World.” At one time, it was said that the city employed more than 20,000 people in the making of candy.
One of those employers was an Italian immigrant, Elmo Lanzi. As a boy, Lanzi tended sheep in Italy, dreaming of coming to America. As a man, Lanzi found his calling in candy making, opening up his own shop in Chicago in 1920.
Following a brief retirement in 1956, he tinkered with new recipes. After developing a new candy, the Cashew Nut and Rice Crunch, Lanzi was convinced he had a hit on his hands and returned to candy making. Sales started slowly, but before long demand far outstripped supply. In 1973, at age 78, Lanzi decided to sell the business, but remained chairman of the board and head candy maker. The new owners increased sales dramatically by expanding nationally and later internationally. Even famed band leader Guy Lombardo couldn’t get enough after receiving a package as a gift. He soon became spokesman for Lanzi's Candy and its new top treat, the Cashew Nut and Rice Crunch.
Initial success gave way to bankruptcy, however, as the new owners fell into financial trouble involving other investments, and Lanzi's Candy disappeared. Lovers of the Cashew Nut and Rice Crunch became desolate, but many have never forgotten the unique candy. One such individual was Jerry Ostermann. In 2005, the successful import/export businessman started a quest to resurrect his favorite candy.
Jerry's eight-year mission first took him to Knechtel Laboratories, then Long Grove Confections and finally… Well, I’d rather not say, since Michael Lahey, Lanzi’s grandson, is documenting that journey in a film called Shelf Life.
Lahey, an independent film maker, has himself been on a journey. It’s one that not only track’s Ostermann’s progress, but captures Chicago’s history as a confectionery colossus. During the course of filming, he has also discovered the sacrifices and skills of several Chicago family businesses involved in candy making, including Ferrara Pan, Primrose Candy, Margie's Candies, and Jelly Belly — all of which are still operational today.
In talking with Lahey, he told me that 98 percent of the film has been shot. There’s still about 6 to 9 months of work needed in editing, motion graphics and soundtrack scoring before its release. The big issue, however, is funding.
You see, Lahey works as an independent producer/director/editor, which means he takes on various projects to pay the bills. He’s good, having won several awards for his documentaries. Nonetheless, he can’t finish this personal project without some financial assistance, $75,000 to $100,000 specifically.
This is too important a project for our industry to let it go unfinished. So I recommend you take a look at this trailer at shelflifemovie.com. After viewing it, I’m sure you’ll want to hit the donate button. Or contact Michael directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and discuss the project and funding with him. It’s an easy way of preserving part of our industry’s precious history — one that has both anniversaries and angst.