Delicious reasons to visit the Almond Roca Factory

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Tacoma, Washington has a long history of making candy and in fact, Mars Inc. (Snickers, M & Ms, Mars, and many more), one of the largest candy companies in the world, started out in town. Founder Frank C. Mars started making candy in his kitchen in 1911, but the company failed due to competition from Brown & Haley, the maker of Almond Roca, which was founded in 1912.

A small family business, the Johnson Candy Company, started making pralines with vintage chocolate molds in 1925.

The Brown & Haley Company was founded in 1912 by Harry L. Brown and JC Haley. Their Tacoma factory (the only one) has been making candy for over 100 years. Almond Roca was created in 1923 after much trial and error to come up with the perfect candy. This delicious combination of almonds, buttery toffee dipped in chocolate and rolled in even more almonds is now exported to over 63 countries around the world. Beautifully wrapped in gold foil and placed in pink boxes or tins, it is the largest exported gift candy in the United States today. Roca is now made in a wide variety of flavors, expanding the line. The company is also known for its mountain bars, which have a creamy center made from vanilla, peanut butter, or cherry and are doused with peanuts and chocolate.

The Johnson Candy Company started selling pralines made from old chocolate molds in 1925, founder Russell Johnson. He bought recipes from an old confectionery manufacturer and founded a family business with his wife Irene that has proven itself. In 1963 her son Ron took over the business. Now the third generation is running the business, William Johnson has the same high standards as his father and grandfather and continues the legacy. Ron still comes by every day, and you can find him dipping ice bars or making peanut clusters.

These are some really good candies and my new go-to place for gifts. One of its top sellers is the open caramel, which combines a rich butter caramel with roasted Californian almonds. The squares are then dipped in either milk or dark chocolate. The caramel is soft and just firm enough to hold its shape. Another favorite is the mint squares, which are an upscale version of an after-dinner mint. Rich dark chocolate surrounds a square of creamy mint candies.

Here are some reasons why you should visit these iconic candy makers in Tacoma.

Peggy Cleveland

Cool neon lights and iconic buildings

The Brown and Haley factory building is located in downtown Tacoma. The building is painted white and adorned with a bright pink neon sign. The structure is over 100 years old. In front of the factory is a round kiosk-shaped building that was once the ticket book for the Seattle World’s Fair. Interestingly, Elvis was filming Presley It happened at the World’s Fair and he was in this building to stay away from the crowd between takes.

The Johnson Candy Company is located in the Hilltop District of Tacoma and was built in 1949. The famous local architect Silas E. Nelsen designed the building. It still serves as a shop and factory for the family business today. A classic neon sign sits on the building and draws attention to it.

Exterior view of the Brown & Haley Factory Store
Peggy Cleveland

Family owned

The Brown & Haley Company is still owned by the Haley family while the Johnson Candy Company is still owned by the Johnson family. It makes a difference having your family name on the sign. Both families continue the tradition of making high quality sweets from the freshest ingredients. The members of the Haley family are still actively involved in the company. The Johnson Candy Company is smaller and the candies are handcrafted by William “Bill” Johnson and his father Ron, who still comes to make candy every day.

Brown & Haley sweets
Peggy Cleveland

Outlets

The Brown & Haley Company has two branches in Tacoma. My favorite is the charming Seattle World’s Fair ticket booth. Located in front of the factory, this cute building has a wide variety of Brown & Haley products at drastically reduced prices. Look for the plaque inside marking Elvis Presley’s visit on August 9, 1962. When I have guests, I always take them to the outlet to buy souvenirs. There are so many great gift options. Most popular is a rectangular tin can with popular attractions like Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle, the Brown and Haley factory, and a Washington State ferry on the lid. If you just want to eat the candy, the outlet sells factory seconds. This is one candy that just didn’t make the cut in terms of looks, but is no less tasty.

Pro tip: If you’re into pastries or candy making, you can buy a 10-pound plate of milk or dark chocolate for $ 30. This is so much better than baking chocolate in the supermarket and much cheaper. It can be a challenge to work with such a large block of chocolate, but it’s well worth it for the good quality of this chocolate. Visit the Brown & Haley website for some delicious recipes using Brown & Haley products as ingredients.

The view from Tacoma's hilltop neighborhood, which is home to many local businesses
The view from Tacoma’s hilltop neighborhood, which is home to many local businesses (JA Uppendahl / Shutterstock.com)

Support local businesses

I prefer to visit local shops when traveling. It keeps my tourist dollars in the local community. One of my favorite things to do is meet the people who make a city so interesting. I often find things to see and do that are recommended by business owners or employees in the community. One of the fascinating things about Tacoma is that I often stumble upon these bags from shops and restaurants. It’s almost like little, little towns in the bigger city. Hilltop is one such area. As the name suggests, it sits on a hill just above downtown, overlooking much of Tacoma. It is one of the oldest residential areas in the city. Inquire about hiking maps at the Historic Preservation Office. After visiting the Johnson Candy Company, I was surprised to see one of my favorite ice cream shops, Ice Cream Social, as well as a variety of interesting restaurants. There are more than 50 companies in the Hilltop area. For information on exploring these lesser-known areas, please visit Explore Tacoma to find out more.

Mt. Rainier, Tacoma, and Commencement Bay
Mt. Rainier and Tacoma (Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com)

Tacoma

The city has a slogan – “Mountain, City, Sea”. You can spend a morning hiking Mt. Rainier, the afternoon kayaking in Puget Sound, followed by dinner and a night at the theater. So in addition to sweets, there is plenty to see and do in this area. Stop by the Johnson Candy Company and explore the Hilltop District. When visiting the Brown & Haley Outlet, be sure to explore downtown Tacoma. The Tacoma Museum District has six major museums, each with their own unique experiences. Learn more about the history of the region. Learn why art glass is so popular by exploring the Glass Museum and Chihuly Glass Bridge. Four of these museums are a short walk from each other on Pacific Ave. There are a variety of shops and restaurants across the street. For more information, see Travel Tacoma.

Pro tip: If you can’t visit the stores, both Brown & Haley and the Johnson Candy Company offer online ordering of their products.

If you get the chance to visit these two stops, check out other attractions in the area:


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