Dolle's celebrates 100 years of being sweet on the shore
Dolle's sign stands out on the boardwalk. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun / May 9, 2010)
"Our family did business in different parts of the country," says Anna Dolle Bushnell, 31, the couple's great-granddaughter. "The story goes that they were invited down by the Trimpers," she adds, referring to the founders of Ocean City's oldest amusement park, Trimper's Rides.
Rudolph Dolle set up a hand-carved carousel near the corner of Wicomico Street and the Boardwalk. Later, he purchased a saltwater taffy cart from a neighboring vendor, and the rest is Ocean City history.
This year, Dolle's Candyland Inc. celebrates its 100th anniversary of making and selling seaside confections: caramel popcorn, fudge, chocolates, gummy candies, truffles and that classic summer treat, saltwater taffy.
The family's chewy, pastel-hued taffy is still manufactured and sold on-site at the plant and flagship store on Wicomico Street.
"We're very passionate about candy. It's another family member that we talk about," says Bushnell, one of several relatives involved in the business. "My father and brother are wonderful candy makers. There's an art to it."
Candy production has changed over the years for the Dolle clan; the family works alongside 10 full-time employees and upward of 50 seasonal workers each summer.
In the early 1900s, the taffy was cooked in small copper kettles, cooled on marble slabs and hand-pulled on large hooks. It was cut into tiny pieces, then hand-wrapped in wax paper.
Today's candy is prepared in large copper kettles that hold 150-pound batches and cooled on stainless-steel, water-jacketed tables. From there, it's mechanically pulled and wrapped on high-speed machines, capable of producing up to 650 pieces per minute.
The price of indulging one's sweet tooth has changed with the times, too. In 1910, Dolle's taffy cost about 37 cents per pound, or customers could buy three pounds for a dollar. Caramel popcorn was 25 cents.
As part of the yearlong anniversary commemoration, Dolle's, which has another location at Ocean City Square Shopping Center and a holiday kiosk at the Centre at Salisbury, will roll back prices on some items and offer special promotions. The store's vintage advertising — originals are tucked away in a safe — will be showcased, and a golden ticket will be hidden in boxes of taffy. The lucky customer who discovers it will win a prize.
It's all a way of saying thank you to the countless tourists and locals who have enjoyed Dolle's candy for 100 years and counting. Although fires destroyed the original and some subsequent structures, the family has always rebuilt on the same site and the foundation of that old-time carousel remains under the flagship store.
"Since we've been in the same spot, we're an Ocean City tradition," says Bushnell. "People come down to the corner for Thrasher's [fries], and for our candy. It's one of those must-dos."
Flagship Store and Production Facilities, 500 S. Boardwalk at Wicomico Street, Ocean City, 800-337-6001; dolles.com. Tours available.
Ocean City Square Shopping Center, 120th Street and Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Md. 21842
Holiday Kiosk at the Centre at Salisbury, 2300 N. Salisbury Blvd., Salisbury, Md. 21801