Now a household name on the North Shore and across New England, Winfrey’s Fudge and Chocolates has grown in leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in 1979. Stuart and Christine Winfrey developed the first recipes for the company’s signature fudge in the basement of their Peabody home. The couple serviced several wholesale accounts across New England, soon expanding to a location in Danvers, where they produced large batches of fudge and other candies, experimenting with different flavors. By 1990, they made the jump to a retail location in Rowley. Now, nearly all of the company’s 30 flavors of fudge and countless homemade chocolates and candies are created in their production facility behind the Rowley storefront.
Winfrey’s has been a family business from the start; Stuart and Christine’s three children began working with their parents at a young age, helping run the company’s much-loved stand at the Topsfield Fair, and similar booths at fairs across New England. Today, the tradition continues with daughter Jillian Winfrey managing its four retail locations, website, and marketing. Twins Scott and Mark are integral to the business as well: Scott manages the candy production and Mark oversees packing, shipping, and wholesale accounts. “We were able to grow very quickly as a business once my brothers and I joined after graduating college,” explains Jillian. “My parents started from nothing, and built such an amazing foundation—then Mark, Scott, and I each brought along our own skills and new ideas.”
Both the family and the business have grown in recent years to welcome the company’s third generation: Jillian, Mark, and Scott have seven children between them, each with a candy named in their honor, ranging from “The Victoria Rose,” a milk chocolate pecan caramel square, to “The Emerson,” a square of dark chocolate with sea salt and blueberries. In May of 2011, Scott’s, Mark’s, and Jillian’s families each welcomed a new baby within the span of a single week. “We were in sync!” Jillian laughs. “My brothers are my best friends,” she adds. “We hang out on the weekends, our kids play together, and we work together in the Rowley location.”
The Rowley Winfrey’s now boasts an impressive kitchen, packing area, and temperature-controlled storage space, where stacks upon stacks of nonperishable chocolates can be kept cool for weeks. In the kitchen, Scott Winfrey and other employees—many of whom have worked with the company for decades—create batches of fudge, caramel, buttercream, and brittles from scratch in huge copper kettles and pans. Across the hall, a large room holds the two massive candy enrobers (machines that cover the squares of salted caramel or vanilla buttercream in rich chocolate). Squares of filling travel down the enrobers’ belts to be covered in chocolate, and then down a cooling tunnel that allows the chocolate to harden. At the end of the cooling tunnel, employees decorate the candies by hand and transport them to the packing area.
The Rowley location produces new candies nearly every day—typically, the enrobers yield up to 1,400 pounds of buttercreams daily. While preparing for the holidays or other special events, the Winfrey’s employees can create around 3,500 pounds of fudge in a single day. Winfrey’s produces all fudge, brittle, creams, caramels, and taffy in-house, while supplementing their stores with hard candies and penny candies from outside distributors. “We have several staples that people associate with Winfrey’s,” explains Jillian. “Our chocolate fudge is classic—even with all our varied flavors, people still choose the chocoate first.” Vanilla and sea salt caramels, almond butter crunch, and cashew turtles are all top sellers year-round, and seasonal candies like taffy and candy canes draw crowds. All of Winfrey’s handmade candies are packaged at their Rowley location, with the siblings working together to design packaging and develop new recipes. Winfrey’s frequently designs custom gifts for businesses of any size, particularly around the holidays. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” explains Jillian. “Businesses create a gift package that they love, so they tend to come back year after year.”
While the Winfrey’s corporate gift-giving programs are extremely successful, it’s their tried-and-true retail locations that give them their status as the North Shore’s favorite candy company. Their four locations in Stoneham, Wenham, Rowley, and Beverly have all proved wildly successful, and the Winfreys expect to search for a fifth in the coming months. “We try to cover as wide an area as possible,” Jillian Winfrey explains, adding that the family may be open to expanding outside of Massachusetts. “We know what works for us now—we need a spacious location with a great parking lot. With winter as our biggest season, accessibility is important.”
The company’s newest Beverly location offers the store a chance to engage with the community in new ways, with a spacious interior and windows that open onto a small production area. “We do create most of the products in Rowley, but we have a small kitchen in Beverly, where people can have a glimpse of the candy-making process,” says Jillian. “We definitely encourage people to visit—it’s like a mini-tour every day.”
The Beverly Store’s additional space allows Winfrey’s to host and participate in community events. “We have an old-fashioned cart that we can wheel to community gatherings,” says Winfrey. “We also participated in a poetry event; we hosted dozens of people who came to read and write poetry—all based on chocolate. People were lining up down the block, and we gave away samples.” Locals can also book the Beverly location for parties and ladies’ nights, where guests can “play in chocolate,” says Jillian. “We’d love to participate in even more events throughout the North Shore,” she adds. “We all live in the area, and we love that people have come to know us through our products.”