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Photos: Inside The See's Candies Factory, Where Lucille Ball Trained For That Classic 'I Love Lucy' Episode
Anyone living within a mile of the See's Candies factory on La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City is familiar with the area's biggest seasonal perk; around Halloween, Valentine's Day, Easter and any other candy-heavy time of year, increased holiday production at See's makes the whole neighborhood smell like candy.
Opened in 1921 by Charles See, his wife Florence, and his mother Mary, See's Candies is coming up on its centennial and shows no signs of slowing down; See's now has 200 locations around the U.S., and ships treats worldwide via its website. In observance of this momentous anniversary, we were brought in last week for a tour of the Culver City factory to see just how the nougat is made.
See's Candies' small pleasantly retro front offices—which one employee laughingly referred to as "Mad Men-esque"—belie the vast factory within, where 1,500-pound tanks of dark and milk chocolate are put to use in creating signature See's creations like the Scotchmallow (chocolate-coated caramel and honey marshmallow) and the Butterscotch Square (brown sugar, vanilla and heavy cream dipped in milk chocolate.)
The See's factory employs as many as 300 full-time employees, along with hundreds more part-time seasonal hires around every holiday, and many of the nearly 100-year-old candy factory's employees have worked there for decades. "One woman has been with us for 53 years," See's Production Coordinator Dave Chapman told me as we walked through the See's factory enrobing room, where workers supervise as candy is cooled and coated in chocolate.
As hundreds of Scotchmallows rushed by me on enrobing lines longer than a football field, I made an entirely unoriginal reference to the chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy, only to be told that Lucille Ball and costar Vivian Vance had actually used the See's Candies factory to train before shooting. "Lucy just called up the See's Candies president and asked if they could practice the scene here," said Chapman.
Who owns the whole thing? None other than Warren Buffett. See's was purchased by Buffett in the 1970s, and the business magnate has toured the L.A. factory several times; Buffett "still says it's one of his best acquisitions," according to Chapman. Take that, Fruit of the Loom.
In addition to its La Cienega home base, See's also has a factory in San Francisco, as well as a lollipop-only plant in Burlingame, California. When asked about the most stressful holiday to prepare for, candy-wise, many of the Los Angeles-based See's employees I spoke to were split between Christmas and Easter (those hand-decorated eggs are no joke to make.) "The day before Valentine's Day gets pretty crazy," Chapman added. Surprisingly, Halloween didn't top the list, proving that during Spooktober, we are all too blessed to be stressed.
Sadly, tours of the See's Candies factory aren't open to the public. The factory was featured on an episode of The Food Network's Unwrapped, but "in general, we like the mystery," said See's marketing director Jensen DeWees. Luckily, the factory's attached store sells See's chocolate-coated wares fresh from the enrobing room. Of course, you can also grab a box of the candy shop's signature treats at various L.A. malls, including Westfield Century City and the Grove.