For many people, nothing says Christmas like candy. Which is why the holiday season is busier than Easter and even Valentine's Day for the chocolate and caramel artisans at Abdallah Candies, the family-owned confectioners based in Burnsville since 1967.The company does everything "from the sugar and corn syrup to the cream to the finished product," said Steve Hegedus Jr., company president since 2002 and the son of Vicke and Stephen Hegedus, with whom he owns Abdallah's.
Inside the candy factory on Hwy. 42, syrups of milk, sugar and cream simmer in large copper kettles as candymakers dab sugared water on maraschino cherries.
Nearby, workers pour liquid almond bark over a long stainless-steel table for cooling and scoring. A worker dips stem cherries in chocolate while others fill boxes of assorted chocolates, piece by piece.
Out in the gift shop run by Vicke Hegedus, granddaughter of the company founder, shoppers line up to buy Alligators, Grizzlies and truffles -- among the most popular of the 225 different candies that Abdallah's makes here.
Steve Hegedus Jr., 42, belongs to the fourth generation to run the family business, which got started nearly a century ago when Lebanese immigrant Albert Abdallah opened a candy and ice cream shop with his American wife at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.
Even today, it's hard to toss a caramel in the plant without hitting a family member. Among them are Hegedus' wife, Karen, the director of human resources and accounting, and his cousin Mike, vice president of operations.
"The most satisfying part of it is to start from scratch and make something that people enjoy," said Stephen Hegedus, who helped steer the company from 1974 until his son fully took over the reins a year ago.
Abdallah's, which employs about 100 workers, typically produces 2 million pounds of candy a year and has annual sales between $5 million and $10 million, Steve Hegedus said.
Most of their business is wholesale, and their candy can be found in boxed assortments and single-serve varieties in gift stores, card shops and upscale grocers.
"Abdallah's is the best candy, I believe, in the world," said Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, with a pardonable hometown bias. "When I go on official trips, it is the gift that I bring from Burnsville, and I'm so proud of the manufacturing company and its product."
The company has always put a premium on customer service and steady growth, with sales directed by longtime regional manager Bill McFarlane. Since Hegedus Jr. took over the business, however, he has tried to expand Abdallah's reach beyond the Upper Midwest.
He hired the company's first national sales manager, MaDonna Schmitz, who assembled a network that now markets the candy in all 50 states.
The company has about 4,500 wholesale customers; they are allowed to open accounts as small as $175.
The company also has worked hard to keep pace with health and diet concerns, Hegedus said. Sugar-free candies, first produced for diabetics, are now marketed for those watching their weight.
Although automation has replaced some procedures once done by hand -- for instance, caramels are now wrapped by machine -- the company still makes candy mainly in small batches and uses many of the same tried-and-true recipes purchased by Grandpa Albert himself from Minneapolis peddlers decades ago.
The company, which survived the Great Depression and setbacks such as a fire in 1964, steered through another crisis after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when some East Coast customers canceled their orders because of the candy's Arabic label.
With the company starting to expand nationally, Hegedus Jr., his parents and other company officials discussed changing the name to something that continued the family legacy but sounded more innocuous, such as Albert's or Mister A's. They decided to stick with Abdallah's.
In the end, they wound up losing only two customers despite the fact that 80 percent of their candy is sold under the Abdallah name.
"It was our loyalty to the history of where we came from," Hegedus said.
Kevin Duchschere • 952-882-9017