After a day of holiday shopping in Marblehead, nothing beats a visit to Stowaway Sweets at 154 Atlantic Avenue for a mouthwatering treat. The dark wood mansion sits on a half acre generously dotted with gardens and trees, and it has been home to the famed candies for generations. Visitors enter through the weathered front gate, walk past the koi pond, push open the massive antique door, and step inside a homey room where smells and sights carry them to a bygone era.
Three long glass-covered tables made at Burnham & Parker, a Marblehead foundry that once occupied the present site of Stowaway Sweets, are covered with a wide assortment of handmade milk and dark chocolates; dipped candied ginger; nut clusters with cranberry, cherry, and raisins; butternut crunch; turtles; salted caramels; fudge; and colorful fruit slices. There are buttercreams, jellybeans, penuche, truffles, flowered mints, and more. Stowaway Sweets’ signature Meltaways, which do just that in your mouth, are legendary.
“It’s the quality of the ingredients,” says new owner Emily DeWitt, explaining why the candies taste so good. Stowaway Sweets’ founder, English-born Evelyn Moore, who studied in Paris, perfected the recipes and brought them to the States. Customers may hand select each chocolate or purchase them pre-selected, all beautifully wrapped in gold paper.
Emily and Don DeWitt are only the third owners since Evelyn Moore opened the shop on Atlantic Avenue in 1929 and operated it until her husband, at age 104, sold it to Alicia and Michael Canniffe to take over in 1980. As the Moores had done, the Canniffes lived in the upper quarters and operated the first-floor candy shop. When word got out this summer that the Canniffes were retiring, DeWitt, who had worked there as a teenager, leapt to action. She happened to be around the corner at Devereux Beach with her husband and two children.
“I told Don, ‘Let’s walk over right now. If it’s true, I want to give it a shot.’ There was no debate. It’s 100 percent our calling,” recalls DeWitt. “For the next two weeks, every day, we spoke to the Canniffes.”
One competitor for the sale wanted to buy it only for the recipes but had no interest in the property. Another just wanted the large corner lot in order to subdivide it. “We could have lost all this history,” says DeWitt.
The couple’s supporters as well as scores of the Canniffes’ loyal customers—fearful the site would be lost for good—started “Save Stowaway Sweets” on Facebook. It’s filled with reminiscences of favorite chocolates, of decades of visiting the shop with family members long since gone, and of vignettes about Easter eggs or pound boxes for Christmas.
“The Canniffes had enough sentimentality about the business that they didn’t want to see it go away, and we are so grateful for that,” says DeWitt.
While still in her teens, Emily (Heinritz) DeWitt moved with her parents to Florida. Later, she worked in publicity for Warner Brothers in Burbank, California, and then for Vogue magazine in New York City.
“I left fashion to go into the food, publicity, and hospitality business. That’s where I met Don 14 years ago. He was an executive chef near the World Trade Center,” says DeWitt, who also worked nearby.
When the tragic events of September 11, 2001, struck, the DeWitts were affected by it firsthand.
“We lost customers who had worked in the Trade Center. My apartment was on East Ninth Street. I was working for a restaurateur on Spring Street in the midst of ruins. We’d go to Marblehead on vacations. This would be our home, we thought. This would be the biggest gift we could give our kids,” she says, adding that her children, Christopher, age 10, and Vivienne, age 5, “are the best brand ambassadors I could ask for.”
Hundreds of pounds of Stowaway Sweets are shipped around the country every year from the Marblehead shop. A display case on the wall contains handwritten notes on White House stationery from the 1930s and 1940s revealing that at least two presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt, enjoyed the chocolates. Inside a box of old index cards is one that states actress Katherine Hepburn’s New York address and her favorite selections.
Having worked in Hollywood, DeWitt has her own celebrity connections. Actor Bradley Cooper and screenwriter Jason Hall are new devotees who regularly order Stowaway Sweets.
While careful to maintain the integrity of the shop, the DeWitts are slowly adding their own touches and innovations. Don experiments on new recipes in the basement, where a full-time candy maker hand dips candies using rich, smooth chocolate and fresh nuts.
The DeWitts will soon introduce stowawaysweets.com, the first website in the shop’s history.
“This place is a respite, a little escape,” says DeWitt. “You cannot leave here without being happy.”