Gary Gogol, current CEO of his family's business, Annabelle Candy Co., with some of their products
Gary Gogol, current CEO of his family's business, Annabelle Candy Co., with some of their products

This local Willy Wonka grew up in a candy factory

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

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.

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Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.