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Family business cranks out mouth-watering confections

December 03, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer
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BOULEVARD — An 80-year-old business, set in this small mountain town, would have made a perfect setting for Norman Rockwell to paint.

Here a family has long held the tradition of making and selling handmade candies at the Wisteria Candy Cottage.

The candy cottage sells its own mouth-watering confections of chocolate truffles and turtles, caramels, fudge, nut brittle, taffy, toffee and other sweets. It takes about an hour to reach the cottage from El Centro, traveling through the mountains in eastern San Diego County to the small town of Boulevard south of Interstate 8.

"We don't do a lot of advertising or slick things. We just do a good job and get to know people," said owner Gordon Rankin. "Some would say we're outmoded, but we have a lot of loyal customers in the (Imperial) Valley."

Rankin and his wife, LuzCelia, own the Wisteria Candy Cottage, which has been in the family since 1960, when LuzCelia's mother, Luz Brown, bought it.

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Rankin cooks caramels and other candy in big copper kettles on the kitchen's original 80-year-old stoves.

To make chocolate turtles, Rankin pours puddles of melted caramel over a pan filled with nuts. After the caramel cools, he does the same thing with melted chocolate.

It's fairly easy to measure the puddles to make turtles, Rankin said. But, he joked, if you mess up, you just have to eat them.

The candy cottage makes pecan, almond, cashew and macadamia turtles. Most of the candy comes from recipes handed down by Rankin's mother-in-law.

Everything is handmade. There is only one machine, which is used to make fondant, an ingredient for fudge and divinity, Rankin's daughter, Dana Eacobellis, said.

Eacobellis is helping her father with the candy business because her mother, LuzCelia, is sick.

LuzCelia Rankin's heart stopped for too long last June. She suffers memory loss and is still recuperating. She and her husband, both 62, want to retire and think it's time to hand the candy cottage onto the next generation.

Eacobellis and her husband, Stan, plan to take over Jan. 1.

"There's a lot of satisfaction in handing the business down to the next generation," Rankin said.

The Wisteria Candy Cottage was established in 1921 and changed ownership several times until the 1940s, when a family named Wendell took over, Rankin said. Luz Brown worked for the Wendells in the mid-1940s and managed the business in the early 1950s, he said.

Brown bought the business in 1960 and it has been in her family ever since.

"After 80 years, you have an awful lot of walk-in business," Rankin said.

Before air conditioning came to the Valley, this town was a resort area, Rankin said. In the summer, it's usually about 30 degrees cooler here than it is on the Valley floor, he said.

That was when the little town of Boulevard had more shops and restaurants, and Valley residents would move into nearby cabins or camp out.

"People going to San Diego from the Valley and Yuma would stop here because we were right off Highway 80," said Rankin. "When the highway was moved to I-8, that hurt businesses here … for a little while," Rankin said. Then people realized the cottage was still in the candy business.

Rankin said the candy cottage does 25 percent of its business at Christmas.

It's just as prone to recession as any business, Rankin said, but he thinks it has lasted because of its strong customer base.

"We get a lot of return customers. We just try to make a good product and treat the customer the way they want to be treated. That kind of customer base is a little more stable," Rankin said.

To find more information and directions to the Wisteria Candy Cottage on the World Wide Web, visit www.candycottage.com or call (800) 458-8246.

>> Staff writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at (760) 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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