Krause's Homemade Candy
Tom Krause is a glorious aberration. Someone who is not only fulfilled by his chosen field of employment—rare enough— but seems almost giddy with delight over it, even with several decades under his belt.
Willy Wonka and Cupid are other examples of this archetype, but they’re fantasies, figments from a rainbow sparkle land that only the very young and pampered can inhabit. Tom’s career, while very real, is probably as close as living the childhood dream of adulthood can be: He runs one of the most beloved candy stores in the region, Krause’s Homemade Candy, and chocolate is the universal language of youth, delight and yum.
“The first thing I want when I wake up is one of our chocolate peanut butter cups,” Tom explains, doing some judicious quality checks on his beloved line of products in the gigantic storage room hidden in plain sight behind the store’s relatively wee-looking facade on Central Avenue. “Or four to be honest. I could eat chocolate all day long, and I would, if my wife let me. Luckily, she’s a very good cook and she’s healthy, so she makes sure I balance out my consumption with actual greenery. Sometimes I’ll just take a bite of one—that doesn’t count, right?”
Still, Tom, his wife, Ann—the president of Krause’s—and his team aren’t sitting behind the counter and popping bonbons all day. They are running a veritable empire of cacao from the factory, which supplies their retail store in Albany, their kiosk in Glenville and their wholesale accounts in Lake George, the Hamptons, Maine and beyond.
In addition to a warren of storage rooms, a vast truffle production area, a chocolate tempering zone and recipe-testing rooms behind the retail space, Tom and Ann built a 4,500-square-foot chocolate mold- ing and storage facility.
If all of this sounds distressingly modern and industrial, it isn’t. Tom’s roots are firmly planted in 1929, the year his grandfather Alfred imported his candy-making know-how from Germany to America.
“He trained as a hard-candy-maker in Germany,” Tom explains. “But he wasn’t sure opening a candy store would be a success here, so he ran a newsstand first, and then a convenience store and a gas station, all on Long Island. This was during the Depression. So business wasn’t going well. But he started making candy as a giveaway with every five gallons of gas bought, then started selling his candy at the counter.”
Turns out, candy is depression-, recession- and generally broke-proof. “People spent their last dime on candy over the milk and bread he carried. People everywhere always want that little treat for themselves or their children, no matter what else is going on in their lives.”
His parents, Manfred and Jean, followed in Alfred’s footsteps, opening a shop in Saugerties, and Tom learned the art, magic and craft of candy-making at his grandfather’s and then his father and mother’s knees. In his 20s, he was ready to build his own candy land, and after scouting options around New York, he set up shop here because he says he fell in love with the region itself.
The feeling’s mutual. “One of our favorite holidays every year is Easter, because that’s when we do fundraisers with local schools,” Tom says. “Kids from around 50 schools sell our candy and get to keep 50% of the sales for the programs that need it. Ann and I love it and so do the schools—it has become so popular, we actually have to turn schools away because we can’t keep up with the production.”
The chocolate may be the star of the fundraising program, but the factory tour is a close second. Schools are given the opportunity to tour the facility, which Tom says Ann decorated and designed with the particular aesthetic of kids coasting on a glorious wave of cacao in mind. In addition to the stupendous and practical silver vats of chocolate, the silver pipes, cranks, pumps, hoozits and whatzits, there’s an I Love Lucy–themed chocolate conveyor belt (“Speed it up!”), pastel stencils of candy on the walls and a compelling, illustrated time line depicting the history of chocolate.
The business of Krause’s fun is quite serious: The confectioner does more than 150,000 pounds of handmade chocolate truffles with custom-made fillings every year, with 40% of sales coming in at Christmas. And that isn’t taking into account the shop’s handmade caramel-dipped apples, their molded chocolate, the chocolate novelties or the peanut brittle, almond butter toffee or the dozens of other treats. There’s something for everyone at Krause’s confections—except the trend-chaser.
“I am always willing to give a new flavor a try,” Tom explains, strolling around the room devoted to tinkering and experimenta- tion. “Friends and neighbors ask me to make them acai berry truf- fles, because they’re so full of health benefits. We tried it and it just didn’t taste great. We wanted it to be successful, but we couldn’t make it work. I’m not putting out a product that I don’t love.”
He’s also loath to alter a formula that has worked for his fam- ily for three generations. “The more you learn about chocolate, just like wine or coffee, the more you realize there is to know,” he says. “I love sampling a bar made from chocolate from one estate in the Dominican Republic as much as the next guy. But I also love our chocolate, and I’ve never found anything quite as delicious for our recipes. I also love the source we use for fruit bases for our fillings. I’m using the same place my grandfather used. Not only is it the best-quality product for what we’re doing, it represents continuity and quality over change to me.”
Krause chocolate is made with Peter’s Chocolate. That compa- ny was launched by Daniel Peter, who, in partnership with Henri Nestlé, essentially invented milk chocolate in 1875 and launched thousands of chocolate empires. But that’s another story.
By the way, Tom is right about his chocolate. Of the dozens of truffles I sampled (research!), I found they were all uncommonly delicious, and all uncommonly straightforward. Krause’s chocolates are the apotheosis of what they were created to be: a classic milk- or dark-chocolate treat with a sweet and luscious center, often involving caramel. They aren’t complicated flavor bombs with obscure extracts that make you feel bad about your antioxidant levels; they are brief tickets back to childhood, where reality and fantasy intertwine and the pure joy of sweetness reigns.
What’s next for the ever-restless Tom? (His ceaseless activity may be partially due to his prodigious chocolate intake, or may serve to offset it.) Working on projects like the almost-life-size Adirondack chair made from chocolate to counterbalance the beloved, chocolate Eiffel Tower currently sitting center-stage in the retail store.
“It’s my love letter to the region,” Tom says. “And it lasts forever. Occasionally we have a problem with some of our enthusiastic younger customers wanting to lick our Eiffel Tower, but it’s rare.”