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Annabelle Candy Co. CEO Gary Gogol, 61, grew up in the sweetest spot a kid could hope for: the family candy business. His grandfather, Sam Altshuler, founded Annabelle Candy Company — named after his daughter, Gary’s mother — in 1950. Now, nearly 100 years after Altshuler made his first candy bar in the kitchen of his San Francisco home, the family-run business is still going strong. Rocky Road, a yummy concoction of handmade marshmallow, coated with milk chocolate and sprinkled with roasted cashews, remains Annabelle’s signature bar. The Hayward factory and headquarters also produces the Look! bar, Abba-Zabba, Big Hunk and U-No. He now lives in Capitola in Santa Cruz County.
J.: How did Annabelle Candy Company get started?
Gary Gogol: My grandpa came over from Russia, from the Orient; that’s why the family ended up on the West Coast. He learned candy-making in San Francisco and started out with a pushcart on Market Street. He opened his first factory in San Francisco. The company broke ground on its current factory around 1963 or ’64 and opened in 1965.
J.: Did you get to go to the candy factory as a kid?
GG: I grew up in the candy factory. I spent my youth getting in everybody’s hair. My favorite thing was driving the forklift. When I got older, I worked summers and vacations there. I wanted to work a “real job” — it was a union shop and still is — so I joined the union. I learned that factory work is hard, real hard.
J.: Were you close to your grandfather?
GG: He was great … an old Russian guy. My best memories were of going to the ballpark in San Mateo with him.
J.: Did you always want to go into the family business?
GG: Yes, it was always a really obviously great opportunity.
J.: Which is your favorite candy bar?
GG: Rocky Road. It’s my favorite because it’s our original bar, and it’s the best marshmallow in the bar. I also like Big Hunk — a simple, good piece of candy.
J.: Do you eat a lot of candy?
GG: It’s been a struggle being in the candy business, to not be a big fat guy. So I’ve spent the last 40 years in candy denial. Part of my job is to taste the candy. I try not to eat too much.
J.: With the exception of Rocky Road, all of the other bars have kosher certification?
GG: Yes, it’s become a pretty significant little niche.
J.: Did you grow up in an observant household?
GG: We were Reform Jews. I grew up in San Mateo. My sister and I went to Sunday school, and I was bar mitzvahed. I’m not sure if my grandpa embraced religion or rejected it. He used to go to temple, but I think he had some issues.
J.: As a child, were your friends jealous that your family was in the candy business?
GG: I wouldn’t say anyone was jealous, but everyone sort of knew about my family. For me, it was the greatest thing ever … 99 percent the greatest thing in the world.