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Len Libby Candies /VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories

Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine: A Truly Sweet, Must-Visit Destination

This fourth generation family business features original recipes and a beloved Maine attraction

Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. Story created on 3/24/2020.

Editor's note: Len Libby Candies reports the following update regarding its business during the Coronavirus public health crisis... "Your favorite chocolates are here, and we've got all of your Easter treats ready. Call in or pull up and we will bring it right to your car. We are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. (at least). We will be closed on Sundays until further notice!"

If 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 chocolate moose.

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 accompany Lenny with a cabin, large pond and mountain scene adding even more Maine ambiance.

Lenny the Moose - a legendary family travel attraction made from chocolate at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Lenny the Chocolate Moose.

If 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. Mouthwatering 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.

Right 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.

Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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.

A friendly counter scene at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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 Candies in Scarborough, ME.
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 to great lengths to make it a priority to visit Len Libby Candies.

"Some customers on vacation will come straight from the airport to Len Libby 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 process to create the perfect candies...

Kettle and candy and Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Original copper kettle and recipe. And the human touch brings the sweet magic to its fullest art form...

Nicole Heisey creates candy in the kitchen at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Nicole Heisey, head of Research and Development at Len Libby, creates Turtles in the kitchen at Len Libby Candies.

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 of Maine.

Maine bluerry candie with Main blueberries and layers of white and milk chocolates, from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Maine Blueberries.

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.

Bangor Taffy from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Bangor Taffy.

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
-- is a 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.

Chopping up coconuts for chocolates the old fashiined way at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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.

Neddham, a chocolate-covered soft cenered coconut candy, from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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 Buttercrunch...

Mil chocolate buttercrunch from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, ME.
Milk Chocolate Buttercrunch.

and the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties.

Dark chocolate peppermint patties from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties.


The Dark Sea Salt Caramel Truffles certainly have an esteemed place in a chocolate lover's paradise.

Dark chocolate sea salt caramels from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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 Box of Chocolates from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
State of Maine chocolates. Photo source: Len Libby web site.

Len Libby also makes homemade fudge year-round from a kettle and features classic flavors like chocolate and this delicious Penuche...

Homemade penuche fidge from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine
Penuche fudge.

served by the warmest, friendliest people like Rose Marie!

Serving homemade fudge at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
At the fudge counter.

Nuts also serve as a popular item -- like these cashews.

Cashews from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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 from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, ME.
Fruit slices. Photo source: Len Libby Facebook page.

During the warmer weather, Len Libby serves a thick, rich flavorful ice cream 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 Cream...

Chocolate coconut chip ice cream from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, ME.
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 rooms and peoples' hearts including sweets for Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Candy cane chocolates at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Christmas candy boxes. Photo source: Len Libby Candies Facebook page.

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!

Gift shop at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Gifts at Len Libby Candies.

Family and friends keep the Len Libby tradition going as strong as a moose

Len Libby, the original owner of Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
Len Libby, the original owner.

Len Libby was born in 1872, the eighth generation of Libbys living in 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 Candies at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine.
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.

Candy prices pre-1951 at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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 about the art and science of candy making.

Fearnly and Fern Hemond at Len Libby's Candies in the 1950s.
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 Hemond owned Len Libby Candies for many years in Scarborough, Maine.
Fern and Maureen get front cover media attention.

Fern worked up until Christmas 2001 but "he didn't feel right," at that time, 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 Nicole.

"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 me.'"

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."

The 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 late 1990s. The original store was eventually torn down and is now a private residence.

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.

Exterior ofLen Libby Candies building in Scarborough, Maine
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 Candies.

"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, of Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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,  finding new and exciting flavors on a regular basis like the "I'm Bananas About You"...

I'm Bananas About You candy from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine

An innovative flavor created by Nicole.

"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 Heisey and Gisele DeGrinney at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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
late Shirley Morneault -- the "right-hand person of Len Libby," according to John -- became ill in 2010 and had to leave her job.

Last year, John gave up his law practice to work full time at Len Libby. He went from a profession seeing many people 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 enjoyable."

Creating candy at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
John and Nicole enjoying the candy-making process in the kitchen.

Len Libby Candies also retains its hired help quite well. Nancy Lee Kelley, 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 organizations 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.

"The children seeing Lenny, generation after generation coming in -- no one comes in here unhappy and that includes the staff, too!" said Kelly.

Working the front counter at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine.
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."

Conclusion

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 form 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, the 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 from Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine
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 Beach -- one of the most famous vacation destiinations in the northeast. Hundreds of thousands visit in the summer for its spectacular stretch of beach, 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, Maine.
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/

Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Len-Libby-Candies/187989351781.
Instagram page:
https://www.instagram.com/lenlibbycandiesmaine/?hl=en


Love this story on Len Libby Candies? Please save and share it on Pinterest. The staff and Lenny the Chocolate Moose will appreciate it very much. Thanks!
Meet Lenny, the world's only life-size chocolate moose at Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, Maine


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