Photos: A Tour of the See's Candy Factory
Written and photographed with LAist Food Editor Krista Simmons
See's Candy is one of Los Angeles' sweetest institutions, serving up treats made locally since 1921. The company prides itself on sourcing as many of its ingredients as possible from California, making many candies--including recipes created by the store's real namesake, Mary See--by hand, and employing a loyal workforce who stick with the company year after year.
But those are cold details in comparison to the chocolatey, creamy, warm, sweet reality of being lucky enough to step inside the doors of the See's L.A. factory--a treat most don't get to enjoy, except vicariously through tales like ours of a visit to where the magic, and hard work, happens.
The unmistakable scent of melting butter permeates the first steps into the factory, which branches off into several areas with intriguing names, like the "enrobing room" and the "cream tables." There's something going on every hour of the day inside the longstanding facility on La Cienega, from cleaning and maintenance to the sweet business of making a significant chunk of the 92-year-old company's line of chocolates and candies.
Comparisons to Wonka's dreamy Chocolate Factory aren't remiss; there are indeed wide pipes of liquid chocolate you can picture getting sucked into, Augustus Gloop-style, after a gluttonous episode of filling your face at your own peril. Of course, in your hairnet and white lab coat with your gloved escorts, there isn't a chance of this happening.
Large tanks outside keep the factory pumped with Guittard milk and dark chocolate, and, of course, sugar. Inside are highly-skilled candy makers, many of whom have been working at See's for more than 35 years, and many who are related to each other. One smiling woman on the line is radiant in her pink lipstick, cracking quips, and standing on two replaced hips as she monitors golden squares of butterchew sliding past her; you'd never guess she was in her 80s.
The enrobing room is the length of a football field, where workers supervise and intervene manually as belts of goodies are systematically cooled and coated in creamy chocolate that oozes at a highly regulated rate and temperature atop the bare insides of things like peppermint patties and squares of California brittle.
The chocolate never stops pumping, and what doesn't blanket that morsel you pluck from a box isn't wasted, it's held and pumped back in. In fact, waste is astonishingly minimal here; a machine shakes chocolate off nuts so both ingredients can find new homes in new treats, and excess trimmed from shining slender bars of their delicious butterchew and their seasonal hand-molded Easter eggs get worked right into the next batch. The skill and artistry of their handiwork is awe-inspiring. Just watch one of a half-dozen smiling women turn out a stream of hot pink icing rosettes with what seems like mere wrist flicks all while holding a conversation with you and you will understand.
The folks at See's have gotten their candy-making down to a science after doing it for 90 years. In fact, there's even a full on science lab upstairs, where chemists test incoming product to ensure continuity, quality and safety.
But even on the second floor, that age old promise to "quality without compromise" doesn't overshadow the pure joy of being inside a chocolate factory. It's firmly encouraged to think back to that beloved 1952 episode of "I Love Lucy" that found Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance "Job Switching" their way into mishaps at a candy factory. Ball and Vance in fact spent the day at the See's Factory, researching candy making and box filling in order to re-create them accurately--with some comedic license--with hilarity back at the studio.
You won't want to pelt the women who still hand-dip the bon bons with a fist full of creamy chocolate--or maple or lemon, as the case may be, like Lucy Ricardo did, should you see them swiftly dunk the filling into the vat and in an astonishing motion fish it out, top it with a perfect piece of pecan, then adorn it with a graceful swirl. The only thing better is eating one...or more.
While you may never make it behind the scenes yourself at See's in L.A. or at their other factory in San Francisco (tours, alas, are not open to the public) you can get your candy online or at the many See's locations around the state and nation. Angelenos just got really lucky, thanks to a rare new store opening in the city that's home to See's, with a new black-and-white shop at The Grove. There's candy enough for every one...but we don't blame you if you end up in a chocolate fight.