Eats and Beats: Flagstaff's Willy Wonka Brings Candy Magic To Kids Of All Ages

Dec 18, 2018

Who can forget the iconic silver screen moment when candy maker Willy Wonka opens the doors to his chocolate room for five lucky children? Another candy maker in Flagstaff ends her busy season the same way, by inviting friends and kids to see the magic of the candy room. Christine Kenndy is a second generation candy maker working in the dwindling art of small batch handmade candies. She grew up in her parents’ candy factory in Colorado. After college, and her father’s death, she jump-started the old family business with the help of a couple of friends. Their business, the Candy Plant, was born in 1999. It remains a one room factory in the woods of Flagstaff, and is no less magical than Willy Wonka’s. The Candy Plant is the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, stories and music from the Colorado Plateau.

Second generation candy maker Christine Kennedy opens her candy factor to friends and their kids at the end of the candy making season
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

The Candy Plant
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

You gotta get the corn syrup and the sugar in and the water, and then you basically bring it to boil. And then add the nuts, and we’re popping popcorn. I think we’re getting close to about 100 pounds of Nutty Corn this year.

My name is Christine Kennedy, and I am a candy maker.

A child delights in watching handmade candy canes come together
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. My parents bought the factory when I was 6 years old. This was in Fort Collins, Colorado, so we were raised in it. My biggest memory is during the summertime taking the candy to farmer’s market and selling it to get that 10-speed bike, or those designer jeans with the Wrigley’s embroidered on the back pockets. You know, things that my parents couldn’t really afford to get us, so they gave us the opportunity to go ahead and sell candy.

Second generation candy maker Christine Kennedy prepares a large batch of her Dad's peanut brittle recipe
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

We finally got to be able to make the candy canes, shape them. And you know, they’re fragile, so we would break a few, and my mom would get so upset with us that she started charging us 25 cents. So, we would go to school and sell them for 50 cents. You know, like I’m dealing candy out of the school bathroom or something.

Now I’m going to add the peanuts and the almonds. We’ll let those cook awhile, and then we’re going to add some cashews and some pecans, but they take less time to cook.

I like to call it Jimmy Crack Corn because it’s named after my dad, of course. He’s passed away, and it was one of his favorite items. He perpetually ate it. That was his favorite. That and the peanut brittle.

I was taught by a Greek candy maker, my parents were taught by a little Greek candy maker. At that time in 75’-76’, he was 77 years old, and he was the goofiest little guy ever. Tony Skoolas: really thick glasses, missing fingers. He was a joy to be around. To have him come and teach my family was pretty cool. And I still have, actually, his candy scissors that he gave to my parents when we bought it from him. My Dad…he’s here. I think he would be really proud. 

Christine Kennedy's dad, Jimmy
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

To close out the season, we actually open up the Candy Plant to our friends to bring their children to have those experiences that I had as a child. They get to pick out the colorings, they get to pick out the flavorings, and then I give them little pieces so they can shape their own candy canes.

Oh, just to hear their excitement, and the expressions on their faces. It’s just priceless to see them and the joy that they get from this candy experience.