A Sweet Tooth Of Success Asher's Has Made Candy Since 1892

Posted: August 13, 1992

Jack Asher was practically born with a vanilla cream in his mouth. Put there by a woman he knew only as "Miss Ella." It was a treat the little boy looked forward to whenever his mom took him to visit his dad's candy factory in Germantown.

Asher is still going to the candy factory. Still eating candy, too. About a half-pound a day. He also unloads trailers, makes deliveries, moves pallets, and puts in time on the conveyor belts. He even changes light bulbs and takes out the trash.

"I do anything. I honestly do," Asher said. "Whatever needs to be done to keep this place running, I do."

The place has been running for quite a while, too.

Asher's, thought to be the city's only candy company spanning four generations, is celebrating its 100th anniversary of sweet-smelling success.

And John Louis Asher Jr. - the guy who takes out the trash and changes the light bulbs - is the company's chairman and chief executive officer.

From its beginning in a four-story brick building on a small side street in Germantown, the company over the years has expanded to four other buildings near Germantown Avenue and Armat Street.

And every one of the buildings holds a boxful of childhood memories for the boy who became Asher's top candy man, the CEO whose mom "would wheel me out to the avenue in a coach."

There's the old Band Box movie house, "where I used to stand in line on Saturday afternoons waiting to get in."

The old 5 & 10, "where I bought my brother a Christmas present, some plastic airplanes, a half-hour before they closed on Christmas Eve. I'll never forget that. Don't know why."

Cherry's department store, "where I would look through a machine in the shoe department and see the bones in my feet."

The old Horn and Hardart restaurant, "where my mother would take me for lunch."

With roots this deep, it's easy to understand why the 58-year-old Asher likes to quip, "My feet can be anywhere, but my heart will always be in Germantown."

The roots of the Asher tree were planted by Chester Alexander Asher, a ''farm boy" from Toronto who in the 1880s crossed the border into Buffalo, N.Y., where he learned the candy business.

Grandfather Asher apparently learned well. In 1892, he arrived in Philadelphia and set up shop somewhere in Center City ("my family didn't pay much attention to history"). A few years later, he moved his candy-making operation to 20 E. Woodlawn St. It's still there. The executive offices are in Montgomeryville.

Chester A. had four sons. All but one stuck with the candy business. The fourth went into insurance. After the death of their father, John L. Sr., the last of the four brothers, Asher and his younger brother, Robert, 55, took the candy reins in 1966.

They've been joined by their sons, John L. III and David, and Robert and Jeffrey. The only one not on the family candy tree is John's daughter, Susan. She's a Presbyterian minister.

Since the brothers took over, Asher said, the number of factory employees has nearly tripled to almost 100. During its peak period, about 350,000 pieces of candy are turned out daily and distributed to gift shops, candy stores and department stores across the United States and Canada.

Not a working day goes by that Asher doesn't sample his product. "I love candy," he said, smiling. "I eat about a half-pound a day, but I work it off. My favorite? Chocolate-covered jumbo marshmallows. I love those little buggers."

As far back as that first vanilla cream from Miss Ella ("My father would always say go see Miss Ella for a piece of candy") John L. Jr. never had a doubt about his future. He grew up within smelling distance of the factory, and each visit strengthened his desire to one day follow in his father's work boots.

"I always wanted to work here," said Asher, who now lives in Ambler. "I was around here all my life. I never considered doing anything else. I couldn't wait."

The wait ended when John L. was 12. He went to work carrying stock down to the old candy store, where he eventually met his future wife. "She worked in the store after school," Asher said. "So did I. I still do sometimes."

Since then, John Louis Asher Jr., chairman, CEO, has done just about everything that needed doing - with one exception.

"I've done everything except climb inside the old boiler to clean the gunk off the fire bricks," Asher said.

"I never will, either. We got a new one a few years ago."

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