Nancy Keith Candies

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Nancy Keith Candies

Lela (Brown) Mueller and her sister, Bess (Brown) Recoschewitz, needed a way to support their families.  Lela’s husband, Louis Mueller, had been hit by a streetcar and sustained a brain injury. As a result he would have seizures and wasn’t able to work. They took in boarders which helped bring in some money, but it wasn’t enough. Bess’ husband, Julius Recoschewitz, was a musician and played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but it wasn’t enough to cover their living expenses. The sisters decided to open a Tea Room near the downtown area. They found a place which had equipment – chairs, tables, etc. They didn’t know why the previous owner left it all, but it was exactly what they were looking for. They were given keys to the place and so they went in and cleaned everything so that it would be ready for business when the deal was consumated. On the day of closing they went to the store to look over the place and make sure everything was in order, but were shocked to find that the place had been emptied of all the furniture and equipment. Since they hadn’t signed any papers they were able to get out of the deal.

Bess enjoyed cooking and one of her specialties was candy. Lela and Bess decided to make candy for Christmas. Their brother, Claude Brown, told them to make as much candy as possible and he would buy anything left over to give to his friends. He also told people they could order the candy. All of the candy sold and Lela and Bess didn’t have any left for themselves. And so Nancy Keith Candies was born. Originally the name of the business was Nancy Lee Candies but it was changed to Nancy Keith Candies using their mother’s maiden name.

Most of the time the candy was made in the basement at Lela’s home, although sometimes Bess would make the fondant at her house, jump on the streetcar and bring it to Lela’s home to flavor, mold and dip. Otherwise the cooking of the fondant was done on the first floor and then carried up to the third floor to flavor, mold, dip and pack. Orders started coming in so Claude gave Lela and Bess money to fix up the basement. They cleaned and painted it and put in two doors so the heat of cooking wouldn’t interfere with the dipping. Claude also bought them a candy-cooking stove and a marble slab which was used to pour the fondant on. After the fondant cooled to the proper temperature they would work the batch (spade) to the point where it could be flavored and then molded into balls ready to be dipped in chocolate.

The business took off and while they continued to make the candy at Lela’s home, they opened a store at 1123 Argyle in Chicago. As the business grew they moved it to 1021 Argyle and finally to 5240 Sheridan Road. Various family members worked in the business and it thrived. Bess died in 1950 and her daughter, Dorothy (Brown) Recoschewitz, and Lela (at this time she was 72 years old) continued running the business. In about 1953 Lela and Dorothy decided to close the store.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Nancy Keith Candies | Letters & Diary Entries From the 1920s
  2. Ed Schar
    Dec 18, 2018 @ 09:33:18

    Those pictures sure bring back memories. When I was a little boy (I was born in 1943) I would go with my mom and dad as he drove her to work at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. After dropping her off, he would take me across the street to Nancy Keith’s for a chocolate covered caramel (my favorite) and also to see my grandmother (his mother) who worked there. I don’t remember how long she worked there but grandma always gave my mother a box of miniatures for special occasions…how well I remember those. Those pictures sure brought me back to a good time from long ago. Glad I saw them…thanks.

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    • Barb Triphahn
      Dec 18, 2018 @ 12:29:47

      It’s always fun to hear from people who remember Nancy Keith Candies! Your last name rang a bell and I called my older sister and read your comment to her. She remembers Mary Schar who worked there and thought that her husband was a policeman or something along those lines. She also thought that your grandmother might have also worked at the store when it reopened in Evanston in the 1960’s and ’70’s. Thanks for letting sharing your memories with me!

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      • Ed Schar
        Dec 18, 2018 @ 15:29:01

        You and your sister have good memories. My grandparents moved to Floida in the 70’s and after living there for several years my grandfather (Albert) passed away. Your sister is right, he was a policeman. He worked security at Goldblatt’s for a while after he retired from the force before moving to Florida. My grandmother may have worked at the Evanston store but I don’t really remember. After my grandfather passed away, she moved back to Illinois and spent her remaining years at Addolorata Villa in Wheeling. She passed away in 1980.
        Thank you for sharing with me that you even remembered the name…that was a long time ago.

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      • Barb Triphahn
        Dec 18, 2018 @ 15:55:09

        Thanks again for contacting me with good memories!

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  3. Barb Triphahn
    Feb 09, 2019 @ 22:02:57

    I talked to my cousins about your grandmother possibly working at the Evanston store in the 1960s. They said they remembered her very well and yes, she did work for them in the Evanston store. She would help the bon-bon dipper, Myrtle Gramm, or if Myrtle wasn’t available, Mary did the job by herself.

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    • Ed Schar
      Feb 11, 2019 @ 14:26:36

      Thank you for letting me know that she worked at the Evanston store and what she did there. I was always curious but had no way of finding out if she worked there or not. Another little gap in the genealogy filled in. Thank you.

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  4. David Pettinger
    Feb 15, 2019 @ 07:22:29

    I grew up in Evanston, around the corner from the candy store. I even got a job there for a short time. I have found memories of the copper cooking kettles and stirring the sugar and butter over the stand burners under those kettles. The ladies at the coating table as they hand dipped the chocolates. Another found memory was learning from them how to read the markings on the chocolates to know what they were inside. People, I don’t think, really knew that the little decoration on top of each chocolate helped identify it. Anyway, I enjoyed the memories this brought back. I had 2 favorite candies there, the chocolate covered cherries and the black and white bark. Have never found any chocolates that could compare.

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    • Barb Triphahn
      Feb 16, 2019 @ 14:35:28

      Hi David, thanks so much for sharing your memories. I also worked there during my teen years, as did my sister and mother. My mom, Jean Johnson, was one of the dippers. And it was my cousins, Bob & Gladys Brown, who reopened the store in Evanston in the 1960s. You might be interested in another blog that I have, lettersfromthe1920s.wordpress.com, that has many references to the candy business and how it got started. As a matter of fact, that was my main purpose for starting the blog as it gave me so much more insight as to how, when and why my grandmother, Lela Mueller, and her sister, Bess Recoschewitz, got into the candy business. By the way, my favorite, especially eating it on the same day it was made, was the caramel bon-bons.
      Thanks again for sharing!
      Barb Triphahn

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      • David R Pettinger
        Feb 17, 2019 @ 10:53:06

        Thank you for the follow up. I was familiar with the Edgewater Hotel, as I had a friends grandmother who had a residence there. She always had a box of the chocolates on her coffee table.
        The year that I worked at the candy store was 1963 and I was a sophomore in high school. Your cousins were terrific, I learned a lot while I was there. Thanks for the link info, I will check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

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