Where Perfecting Confections Is Still The Family Business

Posted: November 28, 1993

WOOLWICH — The stark white store stands in front of a peach orchard in a generally isolated area, except for the heavily traveled stretch of Route 322. Inside Damask's Candies, sweet smells surround employees laboring over tedious jobs as the 77-year-old owner oversees the process.

Constantine Damask is the only one of 11 siblings to take on the nearly 80- year-old family business started by his immigrant father. Damask built this store in 1955 after his father, Arthur, died at 73. But it was the man with the Old World philosophy who made the family name synonymous with chocolate.

"He learned to make candy in this country," Damask said. "He was Greek, and they either go into making candy or restaurants. He took the candy side. He probably loved it more than I do.

"It's the only thing he knew," he said.

Customers from South Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware enter the front room of Damask's Candies only to see a tooth's nightmare. Shelves of cream-filled chocolates, hazelnut truffles, rum truffles, black and red licorice, and chocolate-covered cherries or orange rinds or cookies or oyster crackers.

The back room is a mini candy-making factory.

Damask still uses some of his father's tools: The copper kettles that last forever have remnants of the recently made black walnut clusters; tables topped with three-inch slabs of marble are used to cool off candy.

In one corner of the room, an ornate, silver peanut roaster that Arthur Damask bought secondhand in 1937 is in perfect shape.

"That's an old baby," Damask said. "That was the only machine he had when he was in business and everything was done by hand."

At Damask's Candies, some things have changed and some remain the same.

The ingredients for the 25 types of candy continue to be all natural. But workers no longer have to spend hours dipping cream fillings in chocolate one at a time. Machines have taken on that task. Back then, making 100 pounds of candy a day was an accomplishment. Today, up to 500 pounds can be made.

The process is simple: Slabs of chocolate are melted in nearby bins and heated to no more than 65 degrees. Round pieces of cream filling are added, before everything moves through a cooling tunnel and boxed for future packaging.

Ruth Slusarski, 65, has worked at Damask's for six years. The monotonous task of picking four or five pieces of cooled candy at a time as the pieces roll out of the cooling tunnel came in handy a couple of years ago. It was good therapy for her left arm, which needed exercise after healing from a

break.

"A piece of candy is handled so many times," Slusarski said.

But they must be handled gingerly, carefully stored in a brown box for later packaging to prevent scatching.

The recipes, commonly known in the candy business, are simple combinations of basic ingredients such as corn syrup, sugar, nuts and chocolate.

"Really anyone can make it. All you have to do is read a book," Damask said. "But it's no easy job. Candy making is hard work. You never stop. You're going all the time."

Damask has one son, Douglas, 33. It's uncertain if he will enter the family business.

"He may," Damask said. "I'm not sure."

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