Professional candy makers reveal their delectable secrets at LWR

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Peter Vrinios was a lucky kid, for he grew up in the midst of a famous confectionery in Champaign, Ill.

In its warm kitchen, Vrinios’ father taught him the secrets of hand-made candy, everything from luscious chocolates to caramels and hard candies.

The business, called Vriner’s Confectionery, was opened by his Greek grandfather in 1898. It was a beloved institution for more than 100 years.

After its centennial celebration, the family sold its original Main Street building in Champaign, and worked elsewhere in town.

But now, Vrinios and his son have relocated to a different Main Street: in Lakewood Ranch, where they make candy canes during the holiday season.

“We vacationed here for the last 10 years,” said Vrinios, a third-generation candy-maker, now living in Bradenton. He loved the beach and the small-town atmosphere of the area.

But this is the first time Vrinios has made candy at Lakewood Ranch, he said.

“We decided to find a nice place, and do them here,” he said, referring to Good Earth Natural Foods, 8140 Main St., where he and his son Sam, 13, who represents the fourth generation of the trade, demonstrate their skill in the window.

Vrinios has been making candy since he was a child.

“My grandfather wrote the recipe book,” said Vrinios. “This kind of candy-making is handed down; watching the candy ’til it’s ready, pulling it out with just the right amount of pull -- it’s an expertise.”

The candy mixture is heated in a copper kettle and poured onto a marble table. As the mixture cools, it thickens.

The key to making good candy is knowing when the candy is ready, how long to cook it, and how long to let it cool before you start working with it, Vrinios said.

He “pulls” 125 candy canes from a 35-pound batch of candy.

With quick hands, he is careful to pull the candy to just the right consistency.

The candy maker offers 10 flavors, each paired with compatible colors: Some of them include red-and-white, and red-green-and-white, both peppermint-flavored; the Florida Gator cane is colored orange and blue, with an orange flavor; a wintergreen-flavored USF cane is gold and green; and a chocolate mint cane is colored brown and green.

He is proud that he uses original equipment from his family’s shop, a big antique copper kettle and a 1,000-pound marble table.

“It’s very interesting to watch candy made with no machinery,” Vrinios said. Unlike candy made with a machine, each of his candy canes is unique.

They measure seven inches long and cost $5 each. Children also can watch and make their own.

Sam said his favorite candy is cherry hard candy or cotton candy.

“We hope the public will receive it very well,” said Vrinios. “All the people who come in are interested and have never seen this before.

“They say, ‘It’s really amazing.’”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.