From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

The Candy Man Can

You can tell a lot about a fellow by his way of eating jelly beans.

Ronald Reagan

When I was thirteen years old, I started working with my dad at our little family candy company located in Oakland, California. I learned a lot from my dad, as he did everything there was to do in the company. Then in 1960, I went to work for the family business full-time. I started at 5:30 A.M., turned on the boiler and had candy ready to process for the crew who arrived at 7:00 A.M. I was paid sixty-eight dollars a week and was very proud to be a candy man, just like my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather.

Gustav Goelitz—my great-grandfather—came to America in 1866 from Germany. He bought a little shop in Belleville, Illinois, and started producing candy. Having learned to make candy from his father, my grandfather Herman Goelitz started his own candy company in 1921 in Portland, Oregon. Candy corn was his company’s main product, but the damp weather and humidity weren’t good for making butter crèmes like candy corn, so he moved his company to Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco.

My grandfather had one child, Aloyse Goelitz, my mother. She married my dad, Ernie Rowland, who came to work in the candy business, too. He had a real knowledge of engineering and kept the machinery running even when it was past its prime. My mother ultimately worked in payables and receivables and was a wise advisor to me.

In the 1950s and ’60s, it was difficult to make a penny from a seasonal product such as candy corn. Some years we even lost a few pennies; we had to start making candy six months before Halloween and often had to get extended terms for payment to purchase the raw materials from our suppliers. Fortunately, we had very good working relations with our suppliers, like Al Saroni, who would advance us the sugar, saying he knew we were good for payment later on.

My folks and I decided it was imperative to expand so we could sell a higher-quality product line at a higher margin. We needed to do this in order for the company to survive. When things were really tough, I wondered what I would do in order to feed my family if the business did not survive. I felt that if the company failed, I would not be capable of working any other place. After all, I had only a high school education and a year of college. As such, I poured my life and soul into making the business grow. We began to dream up new candies, and then we hired a European confectioner to help us. The result was the “Dutch Mint®,” which is one of our best products even today. Continuing to expand our candy product line led to our company making the first American-produced gummi bear, and we also started making jelly beans.

In the early ’60s, I read an article about Small Business Administration advisors who could help organize a business. I got in touch with Mr. McDaniel, who was a businessman working through SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). He worked every Saturday with my parents and me for two years and educated us on running our business more efficiently. After a few months, his recommendation was to add on to our cramped 10,000-square-foot factory to increase capacity. As payment for his help and advice, all Mr. McDaniel would accept was a tuna fish sandwich for lunch each day.

With an SBA loan guarantee for 90 percent and Mr. McDaniel in tow, we went over to the Bank of America in San Francisco and showed the loan officer our financial statement and told him our story. He took one look at our statement and said to sell off all the assets and close the business because we would never make a go of it. We left in shock. Thankfully, that afternoon our local Bank of America branch manager offered us a portion of the finances we asked for in San Francisco, a loan that would allow us to at least construct the building.

Driving to work one day, I heard a gentleman by the name of Ronald Reagan, who was running for governor of California, on the radio. I was impressed with his political ideas and thought that he was someone who could make a difference in the world. From that moment on I became an admirer and supporter of Ronald Reagan. Little did I know he would learn about us in the years ahead.

My good friend and mentor Russell Albers, who was president of a confectionery retail chain, was introduced to Ronald “Dutch” Reagan at a political reception in Los Angeles in 1966. There, he learned from an acquaintance that Reagan was attempting to give up his pipe smoking habit by eating jelly beans. Russ began sending him our mini gourmet jelly beans as a courtesy. This was ten years before Jelly Belly jelly beans were born.

When Reagan won the election for California’s governor, Russ suggested we send the jelly beans directly to Sacramento, which we continued to do throughout his term as governor and in the years following. It wasn’t long before we received a very gracious letter of thanks from Governor Reagan, who mentioned the jelly beans were served at meetings in the Capitol. That letter is on public display at our tour center in California.

In the summer of 1976, I received a call from an employee of a distributor in Los Angeles who knew we made quality candy. He was a very creative guy and had an idea for a jelly bean made with “natural” ingredients. We started with eight flavors of jelly beans, which were named Jelly Belly. They were sold in single flavors, not in assorted mixes like we had been doing with the mini jelly beans we produced at that time. Orders started to roll in for this new product.

When we sent Governor Reagan his usual shipment of jelly beans, we substituted our newest candy creation, Jelly Belly jelly beans. Then something remarkable and unthinkable happened. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was on the campaign trail for the presidency and was photographed by Time magazine with a bowl of our Jelly Belly jelly beans on the table in his hotel suite. The national press became aware he ate jelly beans, and then the San Jose Mercury News broke the story that those jelly beans were made by our California company. In January 1981, all the media wanted to know our story. For two days I sat in my office afraid to let the media in, but I finally had to. We did back-to-back interviews from 8:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. for days with reporters from around the world. Once that story hit, our phone kept ringing with people who wanted our jelly beans.

During that time, we received a call from the Presidential Inaugural Planning Committee inquiring whether it would be possible to supply red, white and blue jelly beans for the inaugural parties in Washington. This was not a problem as a blueberry-flavored Jelly Belly had been created that summer to make up the colors of the American flag with red (very cherry) and white (coconut), which were regular flavors. We sent three and a half tons of Jelly Belly jelly beans to Washington. The privilege of supplying the Inaugural Committee with candy was overwhelming, but then upstaged by the shock of receiving an invitation to attend the Washington celebrations. In a whirlwind trip, my wife and I attended the celebrations, being even more surprised to see Jelly Belly jelly beans photographed in the official inaugural book.

As time went on, it seemed all of America wanted to taste the jelly beans President Reagan loved. We were backlogged in orders for well over a year. We were thrilled by press reports that President Reagan gave jars of Jelly Belly jelly beans to visiting dignitaries. One day I was watching the news reports of the space flight of the shuttle Challenger when the astronauts opened a surprise package sent by President Reagan. It was filled with Jelly Belly jelly beans, and those beans were floating in space!

Today we’re still making candy corn and Dutch Mints, as well as Jelly Belly jelly beans and our newest sensation, Sport Beans™ (formulated with carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins, the jelly beans are the ideal Portable Power™ for endurance athletes, weekend warriors and sports enthusiast of all types). We also make approximately one hundred other candies. And we have two manufacturing plants—the one in California and another in Illinois—and over 600 employees.

I wish I could remember the name of that San Francisco banker who turned us down, so I could send him a complimentary bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans; I’m curious what he would have to say today.

Herman G. Rowland Sr.

EPILOGUE: Herman G. Rowland Sr. is chairman of the board of the Jelly Belly Candy Company. More important, Rowland is a fourth-generation candy man.

More than just a hill of beans, Jelly Belly jelly beans are the world’s number-one and best-loved gourmet jelly bean. Today, Rowland oversees every aspect of the business, which includes major production facilities in both California and Illinois.

California factory tours and Illinois warehouse tours delight young and old alike. In 2005, the California facility, located in the Bay Area city of Fairfield, was named “Best of America” by Reader’s Digest magazine for its factory tours. The Fairfield location features an extremely popular visitor center and gift shop and an elevated walkway through the manufacturing plant, accommodating close to a half a million visitors annually.

Family legacy lives on at Jelly Belly; the fifth generation of candy makers is active in the company’s operation. Rowland’s daughter Lisa Brasher serves on the board of directors and is in senior management; son Herm Rowland Jr. is a vice president; youngest son, Christopher Rowland, works on various assignments in shipping and event organizing; daughter Becky Joffers serves on the board of directors; and son-in-law Andy Joffer is vice president of sales. And some of Rowland’s nine grandchildren—the sixth generation and the future of the company—spend their teenage summers learning the family business.

True to his roots, Rowland makes sure that the company still cooks up candy corn based on the family’s original recipe. His grandfather would definitely be proud.

Dahlynn McKowen

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