By Eric Paulsen Special to Published Apr 07, 2004 at 5:43 AM

{image1}It's that time of year when decorated eggs and chocolate bunnies are multiplying like, well, like rabbits. Jelly beans, Peeps and other treats are bulging in the aisles of your local grocery. Some kids cry if they witness you chomping the ears off a chocolate bunny, others devour the entire rabbit like Scooby and Shaggy with a snack.

With Easter comes traditional treats; we're surrounded by sweets and those who make them. Wisconsin as a whole makes a load of candy and chocolate: those tasty little Andes candies roll out of Brach's Delavan factory at a feverish pace; Nestle has a huge plant in Burlington, which takes the nickname "Chocolate City."

But here in the Brew City, known better for beer and sausages, you may be surprised at how much candy and chocolate are produced right here. From gargantuan Ambrosia -- now part of Archer Daniels Midland -- to smaller companies run by sugar-loving entrepreneurs, this city's sweet tooth never lacks for those lining up to satisfy.

Some confectionary companies will let you see, and sometimes tour, their facility, so you can watch it all happen. Touring a candy or chocolate manufacturer gives you flashbacks to the Willy Wonka movie, with its flowing rivers of chocolate and large vats filled with caramel and marshmallow. You can almost picture Augustus Gloop heading over to the river of chocolate before falling in.

Call it the "Anti-Atkins Tour," if you will... here's a look at some of Milwaukee's foremost candy makers (not just sellers, mind you, but makers):

Ambrosia Chocolate (a.k.a. ADM Cocoa)
12500 W. Carmen Ave.
(414) 358-5700

Since 1894, Ambrosia Chocolate has been making and distributing chocolate all over Milwaukee and the world, especially now that they're a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland. The 1992 relocation of their plant also relocated the scent of bubbling cocoa from downtown to the northwest side, but its output from the outskirts still means Milwaukee makes a sizeable share of the chocolate that makes its way into products distributed worldwide.

For example, Stone Mountain Gourmet Fudge, a Colorado-based fudge maker, brags that their chocolate is Ambrosia's, proclaiming it "one of the finest chocolates in the world." Chocolatiers from all over use the chocolate produced on Carmen Avenue to provide the base for the products they sell.

Burke Candy
3840 N. Fratney St.,
(414) 964-7327
From its origin as a Chicago company that moved to Kenosha and then in 1998 finally moved to its present Riverwest location in Milwaukee, Burke has focused first on creating the raw ingredients, then crafting them into a multitude of confections for the anti-Atkins sweet tooth.

Tim Burke and his wife Julia followed their lineage when it came to making confections of all kinds, and Burke Candy follows recipes that in some cases date back generations within the family. One specialty is Grandma Reilly's English Toffee, named after Julia's grandmother (yes, the Reilly one.)

Other specialties include Flying Turtles (named as such because one customer reported that they were "flying" out the door), gourmet truffles, gourmet covered pretzels, almond bark, cranberry bark, even candy apples and personalized orders, including chocolate, maple, coconut, or caramel Easter eggs decorated with custom names or designs. If you want to get your significant other eggs with his or her name on it, they'll make them.

Burke has a small retail store in its facility on North Fratney Street, two blocks south of Capitol Drive and two blocks west of Humboldt. The place where it's all made from scratch -- to the tune of one million pounds annually - is visible through the windows. You can also see the "enrober," a machine that enrobes pretzels and graham crackers in a sea of white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, yogurt -- you name it. One sight of the chocolate waterfall cascading down on crackers and pretzels effectively breaks any will power you can muster.

If you'd like to try your hand at making your own specialty candy but don't know where to go to buy some Nukreme, Gelatin 225 Bloom or desiccated coconut to make it, Burke can help you there, too. They offer basic ingredients for candy-making both at the store and on their Web site.

Some of their products are also available in area candy stores and at their booth at the Wisconsin State Fair every August. All of their products are certified Kosher.

Store hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Quality Candy
1801 E. Bolivar Ave., St. Francis
(414) 483-4500

Known far and wide for items such as Butter Almond Toffee, Pecan Caramel Tads, double-dipped Cherry Cordials, and award-winning Fairy Food, Quality Candy has been at it since 1916 and is probably Milwaukee's most visible candy maker/retailer. Their airport store allows travelers something they don't get at many airports: the opportunity to sample locally-made goodies instead of something from a national candy chain.

Tuesday through Thursday, Quality Candy offers free tours of its 45,000-sq. ft. facility. It's one of the places where you can see the swirling vats of chocolate and other confections that bring out the excited kid in all of us. In the same building, just off Bolivar, you can browse the selection of candies, chocolates, nuts, and other treats that make up the selection line for both Quality Candy and Buddy Squirrel in their retail store. The Quality Candy/Buddy Squirrel relationship, essentially two product lines united under one company, plays out by selling candy and nuts (with no ifs or buts, to counter the popular expression) in 13 other retail stores across the area, including the airport, several area shopping centers, and a few stand-alone stores.

Quality Candy kicked off the Easter season with an open house on Sunday, March 28th, and has ramped up production of its original whipped cream eggs, marshmallow eggs, heavy cream eggs, caramel eggs, marshmallow eggs... you get the picture.

Easter's BIG feature, literally, is their 67-pound chocolate rabbit, with accompanying "baby" rabbits of 9 and 4 pounds. Look for them both the factory store and in stores across the area. As of press time, nibbling off the bunnies was not allowed.

While Easter brings huge chocolate rabbits, the time leading up to Mother's Day will feature double-dipped Strawberry Cordials, so look for those soon (it's coming up fast, too...)

Store hours vary by location; call or see Web site for details.

Northern Chocolate
2034 N. Martin Luther King Dr.
(414) 372-1885

Operating out of a small storefront on King Drive a few blocks south of North Avenue, Chocolatier Jim Fetzer and his cohorts at Northern Chocolate create, package and ship a variety of chocolates, including many of custom design. Chocolate Easter bunnies are, of course, a passionate and perennial feature. Fetzer declared in the past that 90 percent of the world's social problems are caused by hollow chocolate bunnies and vowed never to produce such an "abomination."

However, it doesn't stop at bunnies... Northern Chocolate, which uses at otter in its logo as labels some products with "Otterly Peaceful", also turns out bears, fish and other forms crafted from his unrivaled collection of antique molds.

The lion's share of customers for Northern Chocolate consists of companies and organizations that distribute them as treats or gifts to customers, employees, or members. They do, however, maintain a store in their cream city brick building on King Drive. While business hours vary by season, if you call or stop in to find them open, you can browse among the classic wooden counters and display cases, marveling at the large selection of chocolate goodies.

Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co.
5441 S. 9th St.
(414) 744-8780

Steven Wallace is an attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is the founder of the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company beginning in 1991. Omanhene (pronounced OH-man-HEE-nee) is the Ghanaian word for "paramount chief," a Ghanaian title of royalty. Steven's own ties with Ghana trace him back to 1978 when he was a high school exchange student in Ghana.

In Milwaukee, you can buy Omanhene products, including award-winning dark milk chocolate and hot cocoa mix, at Alterra Coffee Roasters, Outpost Natural Foods, Sendik's and Pick'n Save.

Kehr's Kandy Kitchen, Inc.
3533 W. Lisbon Ave.
(414) 344-4305
From the longtime ownership of Bill "the Kandy Man" Kehr, who passed way last year, to the current almost decade-long ownership of Paul Martinka, Kehr's Kandy Kitchen has stayed put in a neighborhood that has seen better days, but has stabilized as of late. The longtime establishment serves many local customers, some of whom are fifth-generation and drive in from all over town.

From its location on Lisbon at 36th Street, Kehr's Kandy Kitchen "kranks" out Raspberry Whips, Cream Eggs, Turtles, Fairy Food, meltaway Russian mint bars, chocolates, and more, and has been doing so since 1930. All candy... er, kandy, is made in the building from scratch from their homemade recipes.

If you stop in, Martinka will likely be the person to greet you and won't be shy about pointing out the collection of antiques on the walls, nor the massive variety of candy offered: a Kehr's "Variety Pack" contains around 30 different types of caramels, toffees, nut clusters, and more. Kehr's also makes eight kinds of creams, seven kinds of fruits, seven different kinds of chocolate-covered nuts, six kinds of meltaways, six kinds of truffles, and one kind of fudge: chocolate pecan.

For those who need a spicy kick in their candy, Kehr's makes hot pepper truffles (feel free to bring your own hot sauce).

The award-winning Irish Cream Meltaway Bar is a prominent feature at Kehr's. In addition to their store, you can find those bars at County Claire on Astor and Knapp.

Easter brings a whole new level of featured delicacies: 66 different Easter items, not including bunny varieties. Martinka suggests de-emphasizing the traditional mass-produced jelly beans and focusing instead on the homemade items, such as whipped cream eggs (7 varieties), heavy cream eggs (10 varieties), peanut butter meltaways, or mint meltaways. Some of the eggs are over a quarter of a pound, all priced at $2.29 or less.

Kehr's is 10 blocks east of Highway 41 off the Lloyd Street exit. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Martinka and his staff enjoy summer, so they're only open the third Tuesday of each month from May through August.

NECCO (New England Confectionary Company)
P.O. Box 65, Pewaukee
(414) 691-0600
Though headquartered in Boston, the Pewaukee plant for NECCO is one of only three in the nation for the company, which is the oldest multi-line candy company in the United States. In Pewaukee, candy stix and candy hearts are some of the products produced, as well as those NECCO wafers that famously passed as quarters for a brief spell in Illinois tollbooths, causing a sugary mess amongst a sea of coins.

The tall, colorful wafer tower is visible off Capitol Drive and Highway 16 as you drive past. There is store in the facility, but you can find their products pretty much everywhere else.

So, the Brew City is also the Sweet City. Not only do a multitude of candy and chocolate stores that offer a dizzying array of sweet treats, but many companies make that candy right here in Milwaukee. The companies above are just some of those who make it from scratch, and allow other stores -- and finally us -- to enjoy the sweet treats and allow us to spend some time living that popular expression of happiness: being a kid in a candy store.

Eric Paulsen Special to
Eric Paulsen is a Milwaukee native but also grew up in Chicago, Detroit and Dallas, which means he’s never lived in a decent climate. Paulsen works as the Communications Officer for the Greater Milwaukee Committee, serves as a writer and contributor for commercials and a national TV show and pops up on 103.7 Kiss FM on weekends, doing his share of overplaying Top 40 hits. Previously, he was a business partner and director in a start-up online research company that began in 1998 and reached the Inc. 500 list by 2005. He was an early contributing writer for, dating back to 1999. He got his MBA from UW-Milwaukee in 2007 and also holds a BS in Consumer Science (a degree he can’t explain, either) from UW-Madison and thus cheers on the Badgers with reckless abandon. Eric is a graduate of the Future Milwaukee Leadership Program and participates in many community-minded events and initiatives, invited or not. When he’s not working, Paulsen enjoys running, road trips and practicing for a future career as a beer connoisseur.