One person stopped and peered through the Fudge Factory’s glass window.
They stopped to see Peter Vrinios carry on a family tradition that began 125 years ago.
That legacy is making candy canes, using the same marble table that his grandfather brought to America from Greece in 1898.
Vrinios performs a candy cane show at the Anna Maria Island location for the Fudge Factory, 117 Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, throughout the holiday season. The demonstration in making candy canes has two shows left in 2023. They take place 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16.
In 1898, Vrinios’ grandfather Peter George Vrinios moved to the U.S. from Greece. He anglicized the family name to Vriner.
After arriving in Champaign, Illinois, Vriner’s Confectionery was born at 55 Main Street.
The candy shop sold all kinds of sweets, which attracted famous customers along the way.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made a stop at the shop, while Al Capone frequented the joint.
And rock group R.E.O. Speedwagon used the location for the back photo on their second album, “R.E.O T.W.O.,” released in 1972.
“Al Capone used to come there back in the day when he was traveling from St. Louis and visit with my grandpa and have marshmallow sundaes,” Vrinios said. “Eleanor Roosevelt came there and had a Boston, and said it was the best she ever had.”
Keeping the tradition going
By 1983, Vriner’s made it into the national registry for historic places. After celebrating its centennial, Vriner’s closed its original location.
Peter Vrinios, a third-generation candymaker, was at a crossroads.
Vrinios is one of four siblings who worked at the shop for 40 years. He had taken over the family business from his father. But he was moving to Florida and was unsure if candy cane making would survive.
But Vrinios found a location in Lakewood Ranch, which served as a stopgap until finding Fudge Factory owner Benjamin Kaminecki, who heard his story and gave him a place to keep the marble slab for the long haul.
“I said, ‘Hey, you don’t make candy canes. I’ll make them every December,’” Vrinios said. “‘You can use my marble table all year round. How about that for a deal?’”
Vrinios said Kaminecki agreed and wanted to see how it was done, and the tradition stayed alive.
Vrinios’ son, Sam, is in school, but joins the family Christmas tradition when he can as a fourth-generation candy cane maker.
What’s the process?
On a November afternoon, Vrinios is gearing up for the holiday season with two assistants, including his wife Tamela Behm-Vrinios, to help in the candy cane-making process.
But before hooking the hard candy into a cane shape, Vrinios dumps water, sugar, oil and some secret ingredients from the family recipe into a copper kettle.
Once the temperature reaches 400 degrees, Vrinios dumps the liquid onto the cool marble table and begins to work it with his hands as the science takes over.
The liquid begins to harden, and Vrinios adds orange flavoring to the batch.
The plan is to make Florida Gator candy canes, using some food coloring to create blue and orange spirals with an orange flavor for the cane-enthused.
Once the flavor is added and the cane mixture has hardened, Vrinios gives two clumps to his assistants, so the food coloring can be added to those. Vrinios is left with a larger piece to take to a hook on the back wall at the Fudge Factory.
Vrinios continues stretching the candy on the hook that gives it that shiny white look.
Once all three blocks get blended to the right consistency, it’s time to move closer to the window to a smaller area where they can be combined and twirled.
Tamela then receives a bit that’s been measured and cut off to work until she hears a click.
At that point, the hook is formed and the cane is ready.
“You have to listen for it to pull,” Tamela said. “Once it clicks, it’s at the right temperature.”
And for one more weekend in 2023, the 125-year family business is putting on two candy cane shows for the public to see it unfold.