Fire was badly timed for Bensalem candy-making business

Co-owner Andy Kasparian with a chocolate Easter egg at Gabe's Candy & Nut House in Bensalem.
Co-owner Andy Kasparian with a chocolate Easter egg at Gabe's Candy & Nut House in Bensalem.
Posted: April 01, 2013

It seemed a traitorous act, especially before Easter, a violation of some kind of confectioner oath of office.

But Bensalem candy merchants Andy Kasparian and Joe Scavitto had no choice. They had to trash the chocolate.

The owners of Gabe's Candy & Nut House had come home from a trade convention in January to find their factory dusted with soot from a nearby fire.

"It's been a nightmare," said Kasparian, 62, of Cherry Hill. The small fire in a neighboring gun-holster manufacturer led to a big disruption in candy making.

It couldn't have come at worse time. January is the midpoint of what amounts to the candy high season, a Halloween-Christmas-Valentine's Day-Easter stretch of sweet indulgence.

On average, said Francis Cox Jr., chairman of the Philadelphia candy show, Americans consume 22 pounds of chocolate per person annually.

Candy sales for the Easter holiday season, which ends Sunday, rank second behind Halloween in total receipts, according to the National Confectioners Association. Easter candy sales in the United States are expected to reach $2.1 billion in 2013.

For the owners of Gabe's, Easter is right behind Christmas and accounts for 35 percent of their business. When they got a call about the fire while attending the Philadelphia National Candy, Gift and Gourmet Show in Atlantic City, the business partners began dreading their return home.

The accidental fire started near a space heater and was contained by the building sprinkler system, said Rob Sponheimer, chief of the Bensalem Township Fire Rescue. But the aftermath caused big problems for Gabe's, its owners said.

Kasparian and Scavitto, 39, bought the store in 1996. They had worked together as movie theater managers and decided to switch careers.

"We figured if we could run a concession stand that makes $4 to $5 million a year, we could run a candy business," Kasparian said.

At the time, they bought their candy stock from other vendors. Within a year, Kasparian and Scavitto decided to create their own confections and acquired a warehouse 10 minutes away.

They began learning the complex process of working with chocolate, which Scavitto detailed while turning out a batch of chocolate-covered pretzels.

A precise formula involving time, temperature, and movement is necessary to turn out chocolate that is smooth, glossy, and delectable, he said.

Scavitto and Kasparian had planned to resume their candy making when they returned home from the convention in January. But the fire's aftermath changed that.

"We lost our ability to produce for most of Valentine's Day, and we limped into Easter," Kasparian said.

Instead of creating chocolate hearts and bunnies, Kasparian and Scavitto waited for insurance estimates and watched as workmen tore down walls, replaced, and then painted them.

A professional cleaning company came in to scour the place. Several thousand pounds of chocolate ended up in trash bags, along with candy molds and packaging.

The fire aftermath also affected the candy company's clients. For example, Gabe's drizzles caramel on Mrs. Fields' popcorn. A big order was due next month. Gabe's won't make it.

Ordinarily, Gabe's would begin stocking Easter candy right after Valentine's Day. This year, the chocolate bunnies and eggs appeared on the shelves two weeks before the holiday.

Darlene Muldowney of Bensalem dropped in Wednesday to buy jellybeans, chocolate eggs, marshmallow figures.

A retired teacher, Muldowney has been going to Gabe's for decades.

"When I need candy, I shop here, and my husband comes in to buy truffles for my birthday," said Muldowney, 64.

She will use her Gabe's candy to make Easter baskets for a family dinner on Sunday.

After all, she said, Easter without candy "wouldn't be the same."

Kasparian and Scavitto are happy they could oblige, for the business' sake, and for their customers - especially this year.

They're "a mood elevator," Kasparian says of the candies he has sold for almost his entire career, "They bring happiness to people."

Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or

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