Approximately 15 years ago Ken Wiesen, the man responsible for resurrecting Turkish Taffy, was reminiscing with a friend about their childhood favorites and he was confident that while Bonomo’s signature product could not be found in the New York area, it had to be available somewhere. Wiesen headed for an Internet caf? and was shocked to discover that the candy was still the subject of Internet chatter – from people who were lamenting its loss, to others who were looking to locate the sugary treasure, plus people who were drawing up petitions to bring back Turkish Taffy.
What was it that made the product so unique? “It wasn’t just that it was good, rich and lasted for a long time; it was the first interactive candy,” explained Wiesen, a 53-year-old Long Island attorney. “We would buy a bar of Bonomo’s and smack it on the sidewalk. After peeling the pieces off the wrapper, you could warm it in your hands, stretch it and shape it. It was amazing.”
Wiesen was surprised to discover that the demand for Turkish Taffy was so great that it was searched for online as often as some of today’s major candies. After acquiring the rights to one of the Turkish Taffy trademarks, Wiesen sued current Turkish Taffy owner Tootsie Roll for infringing on his right to his newly acquired trademark and for improperly renewing their existing marks. Wiesen won his case and set about learning the candy business, making the leap from owning the rights to producing a product that hadn’t been on the market since Richard Nixon was president.
Wiesen and his partner, fellow Turkish Taffy enthusiast Jerry Sweeney, joined with the Classic Caramel in York, Pennsylvania, producer and master distributor for Turkish Taffy. The product was released in July 2010, and today baby boomers looking for a Turkish Taffy fix can find the candy in approximately 10,000 stores, in both bars and bite size pieces. Available in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana, Turkish Taffy has always been and continues to be kosher. It is certified by the Orthodox Union.
Wiesen, now president and co-owner of Bonomo, is discovering unknown facts about the origins of the celebrated candy which has been around longer than anyone ever imagined and is about to celebrate its 100th birthday. Like so many other successful products, the candy was invented by mistake in 1911 when Herman Herer, a Jewish immigrant who came to the United States in 1901, accidentally put too many egg whites into the marshmallow batter he was making for the Newark, New Jersey candy company M. Schwarz and Son. Not one to waste anything, Herer cooked and baked the batter, giving his new creation its distinctive hard texture.
Herer’s confection was purchased first by M. Schwarz and Son and then in 1936 by the Bonomo Candy Company, owned by Victor Bonomo, a Sephardic Jew who emigrated from Turkey in 1897. While production of the candy was suspended during World War II due to sugar rationing, as the war ended people were elated to be able to indulge their sweet tooth – and the Coney Island plant that manufactured Turkish Taffy resumed production once again.
Originally sold by weight in Woolworth’s with shards of taffy broken off from a large sheet of the candy with a ball peen hammer, Turkish Taffy was first produced as candy bars in the early 1940s with labels bearing the words “Crack it up!” Consumers would hit the bar against a hard surface, producing dozens of small hard pieces that slowly melted into a tantalizingly delicious gooey confection in their mouths.
With his progressive marketing techniques, Tico Bonomo, Victor’s grandson, is responsible for much of the success of the Turkish Taffy. While at the time many television and radio shows had sponsors, Tico Bonomo created his own television show (which aired from 1949-1959) for the express purpose of marketing Turkish Taffy. Featuring a clown, puppets and a cheering audience of fez-wearing children, The Magic Clown Show broke ground as possibly the first show to market a product directly to children and was one of the earliest infomercials. Additionally, Jim Henson, a student of puppeteer Bil Baird – whose puppets, Bo No and Mo were featured on the show – modeled his famous Muppets directly after the Bonomo puppets.
Turkish Taffy continued to rise in popularity, and by the late 1960s was selling over 110 million bars a year. It was sold first to the Candy Corporation of America and then to Tootsie Roll. Early in its ownership tenure Tootsie Roll began to tweak the product, giving it a softer consistency, and changed the name to “Soft and Delicious Taffy.” Sales sagged and by 1973, the original Turkish Taffy was just a memory.
Ken Wiesen, the president and co-owner
of Bonomo, the maker of Turkish Taffy
Today, thanks to Ken Wiesen and Jerry Sweeney, Turkish Taffy is back in all its former glory. It is alive and well on Twitter and Facebook, with dedicated fans posting their comments about the return of their favorite treat. Wiesen receives numerous e-mails daily from happy consumers who, with one quick smack of a bar of Bonomo’s, are transported back to a time and place that is full of magic.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various Jewish newspapers, magazines and websites. She has also written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.