Libby Candies /VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine: A Truly Sweet, Must-Visit
generation family business features original recipes and a beloved Maine
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
created on 3/24/2020.
there's any happier emotion than feeling like a kid in a candy store,
it's feeling like a kid in a candy store with a seven-foot tall,
nine-foot wide, 1,700-pound
Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine is home
to Lenny, the world's only life-size chocolate
moose. Zdeno Mayercak, a sculptor and former instructor at the Maine
College of Art in Portland, Maine, created Lenny in
1997. Kids of all ages, from near and far,
can hardly wait to see this lovable moose as well as the pond that is
white chocolate tinted with food coloring. Lenny's
insides are comprised with an armature of steel, wrapped in mesh,
covered with 10-pound blocks of chocolate and attached by melting
chocolate onto the frame. Additionally, a 380-pound chocolate mother
bear and two 80-pound cubs
Lenny with a cabin, large pond and mountain scene
adding even more
Lenny the Chocolate Moose.
there's any happier emotion, however, than feeling like a kid in a
candy store with a 1,700-pound chocolate moose, it's a heritage,
family-owned small business that has brought a legacy of joy to
residents and vacationers.
candies, lovingly crafted from four generations of a
local family and their friends, reveal the longstanding story
of how Len Libby Candies has remained head and antlers above the
rest since Len Libby opened his shop in 1926.
away, the sweet aromas and eye-catching displays bring the customer
into a chocolate utopia far away from a vanilla world fueled by the
constant traffic on Route 1.
St. Patrick's Day display.
It's like stepping into another place and time, sweetened by the
universal love for chocolates and nostalgia as well as a family-owned
business that feels like a lifelong friend -- even if visiting there
for the first time.
Kelly Cain works the front counter at Len Libby Candies.
Barks and Brittles, Buttercrunch and
Bangor Taffy, Clusters and Caramels, Truffles and Turtles, Soft Centers
and Sugar-Free yield not only yummy grammatical alliteration but also the overwhelming ability to
stoke the sweet tooth. The yummy selections have grown through the
years but the original recipes from 100 years ago, to this very
day, remain virtually unchanged and true to form. Using a music
metaphor, Len Libby chocolates are more like a Stradivarius
than a banjo given the
precise crafting and fine tuning going on here from the inside out.
Essential kitchen ingredients at Len Libby.
"We keep classic recipes intact," said John DeGrinney who co-owns Len
Libby Candies with wife, Gisele DeGrinney (more on their association
with the long-established family business shortly). "We are keeping the
processes from 100 years ago. You can't improve upon perfection."
Customers immediately sense and then taste that perfection and often go
lengths to make it a priority to visit Len Libby Candies.
"Some customers on vacation will come straight from the airport to Len
instead of to their cottage," said Gisele. "Or, that we ship to
different places in the country all the time."
Legacy candies made with love and tradition
Len Libby Candies is a place where original copper kettles help in the
create the perfect candies...
Original copper kettle and recipe.
And the human touch brings the sweet magic to its fullest art form...
Nicole Heisey, head of Research and Development at Len Libby,
creates Turtles in the kitchen at Len Libby
The Maine Blueberries -- with layers of white and milk
chocolate covering this local fruit -- are simply a heavenly-tasting
morsel and quite popular
with visitors who like to bring home something tasty that reminds them
The Bangor Taffy bursts with rich flavor coming from its base of
rolled caramel and confectioner's sugar. As another
must-have Len Libby product, these caramel squares also possess quite
a bit of
history. In the early 1900s, a candy maker convinced the Maine Central
Railroad to serve the taffy squares to passengers. The idea
gained full steam as porters served the candies from baskets on their
arms. Soon, the candies became a revered tradition on the Bangor,
Portland and Boston lines.
The candy maker, however, couldn't keep up with the demands, so he
contacted Len Libby for some help. Len Libby
became the exclusive owner and maker to the original recipe of the
Bangor Taffy recipe. Today, Bangor Taffy is just as popular as ever -- people
can't get enough of this timeless retro candy.
Needhams -- a chocolate-covered, soft-centered coconut
treat named after a New England pastor who gave away this candy in hopes of
bringing in more parishioners --
popular Maine tradition. A behind-the-scenes look at the process reveals why
the Needhams at Len Libby taste so fresh. First, Len Libby buys whole coconuts.
Then Larry LaChance -- who has been working at Len Libby since the
1980s -- cracks the
outside hard shell with a mini-hatchet in the back kitchen. The skin is
then peeled from the coconut ball, which is cut in half before the
shredding takes place.
Larry LaChance chops a coconut with a mini hatchet.
The result truly epitomizes the handmade process with amazing taste
that reflects the hard work going into the product.
Fresh coconut filling.
"The average time for the untrained to cut a coconut is 15 minutes," said
John. "He (Larry) does it in three to five minutes."
Call it Maine's version of Candyland but everywhere you look, there's a
memory from the past that still gets front billing at Len Libby's like this classic Milk Chocolate
Milk Chocolate Buttercrunch.
and the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties.
Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties.
The Dark Sea Salt Caramel Truffles
certainly have an esteemed place in a chocolate lover's paradise.
Dark Sea Salt Caramel Truffles.
If, however, seeking a variety of Len Libby
creations, the State of Maine Gift Box will do just fine. It's like a
greatest hits box set that features the "beautiful state of Maine
molded in premium Dark or Milk Chocolate" and surrounded by an
assortment of some of Len Libby's most popular pieces.
State of Maine chocolates. Photo source: Len Libby web site.
Len Libby also makes homemade fudge year-round from a kettle and
classic flavors like chocolate and this delicious Penuche...
served by the warmest, friendliest people like Rose Marie!
At the fudge counter.
Nuts also serve as a popular item -- like these cashews.
Box of cashews. Photo source: Len Libby Facebook page.
Fruit slices conjure up nostalgic memories with their bright
colors, strong flavors and sprinkled sugar. Len Libby offers these
wonderful candies that include lemon, lime, orange, raspberry and
grape. Such a simple pleasure!
Fruit slices. Photo source: Len Libby Facebook page.
During the warmer weather, Len Libby serves a thick, rich flavorful ice
with 14 percent
butterfat content that is made on the premises. The Needham is, to no
surprise, a customer favorite as well as
Maine Sea Salt
Caramel, Red Raspberry Chip, Cashew Caramel, Lenny Tracks (similar to
Moose Tracks!), Mocha Chip, Oreo, Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Mint
Chocolate Chip, Buttercrunch, Chocolate Chip, Black Raspberry, Swiss
Chocolate Almond and Cookie Dough. This is Chocolate Coconut Chip Ice
Chocolate Coconut Chip Ice Cream from Len Libby. Photo source:
Len Libby Candies Facebook page.
Throughout any season, candy themes further brighten the Len Libby
peoples' hearts including sweets for Christmas, Valentine's Day, St.
Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Christmas candy boxes. Photo source: Len Libby Candies Facebook
It's also no surprise that such a gifted shop has a nice gift store,
located in "Lenny's Room." What a nice combination: gifts, the
aforementioned fudge area and Lenny the Chocolate Moose!
Gifts at Len Libby Candies.
Family and friends keep the Len Libby tradition going as strong as
Len Libby, the original owner.
Len Libby was born in 1872, the eighth generation of Libbys living
Scarborough. His great grandfather once owned the entire Prouts Neck, a
coastal peninsula in Scarborough.
Famous artist Winslow Homer moved to Prouts Neck in 1883 where Len
became his houseboy. Len's ambitions, however, went far beyond being a
mere helper as he spent many years working for candy companies in
Portland, Maine, before starting his career as a music teacher at the
Westbrook School Department in Westbrook, Maine. It is interesting to
note that one of Libby's students was Rudy Vallee who went on to become
a famous pop singer, actor and radio show host. Some say Vallee was
America's first teen idol! Vallee never forgot his roots, coming back
home and visiting Libby when he had the chance.
Len always had, however, a sweet spot for making candy and began
doing so again in 1926 out of his home and then at his first store at
Higgins Beach in Scarborough.
The original Len Libby's Candy Shop at Higgins Beach. Photo
source: Higgins Beach
Properties web site.
The prices were low, by today's standards, but the quality high -- thus, bringing in many customers.
Retro pricing, pre-1951.
Len had a great run, owning the store until 1949 when he sold to Dr.
Fernand Hemond. He taught Hemond's son, Fern, everything he knew
the art and science of candy making.
Fern (left) at the Higgins Beach
store in the 1950s.
Fern bought the store from his
father in 1956, kept the Len Libby name, and also had a great run with
wife Maureen by his side from day one to help make the business grow
and also receive a good amount of press in the process...
Fern and Maureen get front cover media attention.
Fern worked up until Christmas 2001 but "he didn't feel right," at that
according to Nicole, and was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2002. He
died in 2003.
"Dad was there (at Len Libby) until a few months before the end, making
sure everything was going well and things were being done right," said
"Fern was a smart guy and had the strongest work ethic I had ever
seen," said John.
Maureen loved how she and Fern worked together as a team.
"We worked together so well, with everybody" said
Maureen. "He never said, 'You worked for me.' He said, 'You worked with
Maureen added, "He learned a lot from Len Libby. He was always a quick
study but he wasn't quick at making candy. That was a blessing."
current Len Libby location co-existed with the Higgins Beach shop (with
the kitchen moving to the newer location in 1978) from 1951 until the
The original store was eventually torn down and is now a private
Today, the Route 1 store stands majestically and magically on a small
hill, featuring a sunny, welcoming exterior with impeccable
landscaping. There's no mistaking this landmark building.
Today at Len Libby Candies on Route
1. Photo source: Len Libby Candies Facebook page,
As a testimony to the love the family
has for its business, Maureen, at 80-years old, works up to 35
hours a week at Len Libby
"The family business keeps me going," said Maureen. "You don't retire.
You live and breathe what you do. Vacations? I guess that would be
trips to (candy) conventions. It all keeps me young."
Maureen Hemond at 80-years-old.
As mentioned earlier in the story,
Maureen's daughter Gisele DeGrinney and
husband John DeGrinney serve as
co-owners. Nicole heads the "R&D department,
and exciting flavors on a regular basis like the "I'm Bananas About
An innovative flavor created by
"John and Gisele make it such a special place," said Nicole. "They have
wonderfully carried on the tradition and they are
easy to work with. Even if the work is hard."
Nicole, Maureen, Gisele and John.
Gisele started working at Len Libby at a "very young age," while John
came aboard several years ago to help out when the
Morneault -- the "right-hand person of Len Libby," according to John -- became ill
in 2010 and had to leave her job.
year, John gave up his law practice
to work full time at Len Libby. He went from a profession seeing many
found guilty to an old-fashioned shop with a refreshing innocence.
"I don't miss the days of being a lawyer," said John. "This is more
John and Nicole enjoying the candy-making process in the kitchen.
Len Libby Candies also retains its hired help quite well. Nancy Lee
a Goldstar Mother and a beloved figure in the Scarborough area, has
worked several years
at the candy store.
She is regarded as the "Ambassador" at Len Libby Candies
because she loves welcoming guests. Nancy also volunteers with several
that support the U.S. Military and their families.
"It's a wonderful place to work," said Nancy. "I like any job they
give me here. Plus, they give me samples!"
Devin Cain started working at Len Libby Candies at 15-years old. She
never left. Now a clinical
psychologist, Devin still finds time to work at Len Libby.
"I was so young, I had to get a workers permit to work during the
summer here," said Devin. "It's such a special place to work. I still
love coming here."
Her mom, Kelly Cain,
started working at Len Libby several years ago, to also help when
Shirley became ill.
children seeing Lenny, generation after generation coming in -- no one
comes in here unhappy and that includes the staff, too!" said Kelly.
Nancy, Devin and Kelly at the front counter.
Carol, an employee at Len Libby Candies since 1997, wouldn't think of working anywhere else.
"I have been here since Lenny (the Moose)," said Carol. "I love the family atmosphere."
Small business doesn't get much better than Len Libby Candies. Len
Libby has not only created recipes that people love to consume in the
of candies but also recipes that serve as a prototype for family
business success. The will to work hard, produce, create, innovate, adjust and
meaningfully expand has carried on from the days of Len Libby to Fern
and Maureen to Gisele and John and staff. In a throwaway world where
everything moves so fast and comes and go with the hot trends, Len
Libby Candies remains as solid as, well, 1,700-pound Lenny.
Think of it this way: The typical family business tends to last no more
than a couple of decades as its lifespan ceases after the second or
third generation. Len Libby Candies, on the other hand, started when
Calvin Coolidge was our 30th
United States President, the National Bar Association first became
incorporated and NBC radio started operation.
The family business has
seen fire and rain in the form of passings, bad economies, inflation
and a once neighborly society becoming more divided. And here it is,
21st Century, and one step into Len Libby Candies graces the visitor
with all the good things: sense of community, big smiles, great
customer service, loyal locals and vacationers and, oh yes, those
incredibly delicious homemade candies.
On a personal level, I regard Len Libby Candies as having the
best-tasting chocolate that I have experienced in New England --
and that's with 50+ years of sampling and feasting. The tastes really
take on a three-dimensional flavor going way beyond the good but
standard offerings found at many candy shops and other retail places in
the northeast. Surely, the taste,
texture, cocoa content and aroma play the critical factors that
comprise the best tasting chocolate but something tells me, also, that
there's also a crucial element that makes Len Libby that much better.
It's the tried-and-true recipes and the courage for newer generation
owners to keep them intact that helps make these candies so memorably
tasty. There's something to be said about getting things right the
first time. Len and Libby Candies knows the value of respecting and
loving original recipes. So do the customers!
Milk Chocolate Cherry Cordial.
Additionally, I have rarely seen a small business run so efficiently,
passionately and genuinely -- significant, given all the outstanding
businesses I have covered. Ninety nine percent of them have truly
special small business qualities, but I found Len Libby Candies to be
in the upper echelon. Maybe it's the candy talking but I don't think
that's the sole reason. There's just something so special about this
place that can only be experienced by visiting this local treasure.
One a side note, it also helps that Len Libby is near Old Orchard
-- one of the most famous vacation destiinations in the northeast.
Hundreds of thousands visit in the summer for its spectacular stretch
amusements, comfort foods and places to stay, but it is also ideal off season
spot for those who love
peace and quiet.
Old Orchard Beach in March.
Without the strength and resolve of a close-knit family, there
would be no Len Libby Candies. Just like back in
the day, Len Libby is still in it for the long run.
"I look forward to Len Libby going another four generations," said
Nicole, in a confident tone suggesting that could very well be the case.
Len Libby Candies is
located at 419 US Route 1 in Scarborough, ME. Tel. 207-883-4897.
Web site: https://www.lenlibby.com/
fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Len-Libby-Candies/187989351781.
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/lenlibbycandiesmaine/?hl=en
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