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It says it right in the logo: “Fine Confections since 1922.”
Zitner’s, the Philadelphia candy company known for their signature chocolate-covered eggs, turns 100 this year, and it’s still churning out ovoidal confections filled with coconut, buttercream, peanut butter, and its signature “Butter Krak” concoction.
The local treats were born when a couple, Sam and Anne Zitner, began making and selling candy eggs at their home in the 1920s, before operationalizing their business a few years later. The business isn’t in the family anymore, but it’s been based out of the same North Philadelphia factory for around 80 years, according to current owner Evan Prochniak.
Even though the folks at the helm have shifted, the company’s recipes remain constant. So does the feeling of tradition and “family atmosphere” within the factory, Prochniak told Billy Penn.
“I have people [who have been] there for over 30 years, and they teach the younger employees to have pride in the product we are producing,” Prochniak said. “They hand down the techniques that make Zitner’s candy so good. When I first took over they all showed me the way.”
A family enterprise and the signature Butter Krak recipe
Sam and Annie Zitner started making candy eggs and selling them out of their garage in the 1920s, according to Prochniak, who cited conversations he had with Arthur Sherman, the Zitners’ nephew. Once the venture proved to be successful, the couple moved to a factory space on American Street and started producing even more of the eggs.
The beloved Butter Krak recipe — a coconut-and-buttercream center covered in dark chocolate and toasted coconut — might’ve been around almost as long as the company.
The Zitners created it “early on” in the business, Prochniak said. Leon Sherman’s obituary notes that Annie Zitner showed her nephew how to make them in the 1930s.
Butter Krak is still one of the company’s bestsellers, Prochniak told Fox 29 news this year, along with the Butter Cream variety. Prochniak has handwritten copies of the recipe that date back to the early 1950s — when the eggs sold for just 5 cents, he told Billy Penn.
In the 1940s, the Zitners handed the business along to nephew Arthur and his brother Leon. The Shermans ran the company for about half a century. Prochniak estimated they moved to the current factory space at 3120 N. 17th St. sometime in the 1940s.
In addition to its bite-size candy, the company would produce a one-hundred-pound, decorated chocolate egg for Easter display in the window of the Girard Bank on Broad Street, according to Arthur’s obituary.
The pair of brothers were a “force in the North Philadelphia business district, providing jobs and stability to people of the community during a period when there was an extensive white flight by businesses to the suburbs,” the obituary said.
Although Arthur reportedly wanted to streamline some aspects of the egg-making process to lower production costs, Leon rejected most of his suggestions and wanted to keep doing things the old-fashioned way, even fixing broken factory machines himself.
“The Easter eggs are made, more or less, the same way they were made a half a century ago,” Arthur told The Inquirer in 1990, when Leon died. “There’s a lot of hand labor. By standing in place, we’ve become unique.”
Though it still bears the name of its founding family, the company has had a few new owners since its inception 100 years ago.
Leon Sherman’s death in 1990 brought about the company’s first move out of the family. Arthur retired from candy manufacturing, and Sidney Rosenblatt — current CFO of Universal Display Corporation — bought the company and ran it for 20 years.
Evan Prochniak, Kenneth Schuster, and Sam Sherman purchased the candy making company and its North 17th Street factory in 2010. The initial plan was to sell the company off and develop the property into something else, Prochniak told the Inquirer.
But the broker representing the previous owner managed to convince him otherwise, and Prochniak’s perspective on the venture changed once he learned more.
“I’m a candy maker,” he told NJ.com in 2016.
A century of sweets
Zitner’s candy eggs have been an Easter season hit with locals throughout the years, appearing at both smaller retailers and chains like Wawa, Walmart, and ACME. Even when the Great Recession hit, the eggs flew off the shelf (and left customers frustrated when they couldn’t find any).
“Philadelphians like good food in general,” Prochniak said. “That does not change within candy. We know good quality when we taste it.”
Zitner’s has begun distributing its sweets beyond the Philly area in recent years. In 2016, stores in Texas, Arizona, Ohio, and Oregon started carrying the local Easter candy. The factory starts working on the spring product line in October, and finishes up in March, per Prochniak.
Also in 2016, the company introduced a “Christmas DeLights” product line with peppermint-, raspberry-, caramel-, and peanut butter-filled candies.
In 2018, the company voluntarily filed for bankruptcy to address “an overhang of debt,” the company’s lawyer told the Philadelphia Business Journal. But business has continued on.
In the company’s hundredth year, an enrober machine (which coats candies in chocolate) installed in the 1950s is still running, according to Prochniak, who said he still has the equipment receipt on file. Most everything else has been replaced, though, as some were beyond repair.
One of the retired machines produced marshmallow and caramel eggs, Prochniak said.
He hopes to start bringing them back, albeit at a smaller scale. He said he’s been working through the company’s old recipes to develop a “candy club,” which would allow a limited number of members to receive candies made from the resurrected recipes, produced in small batches.
“We have a lot of people that were big fans of our marshmallow (including me),” Prochniak said. “And I am determined to start making them again.”