Ryan and Eric Berley take the sweet tooth on a journey through time with hand-made, turn-of-the century confections.
Since opening The Franklin Fountain in 2004, brothers Ryan and Eric Berley,
each clad in vintage suits, plucky suspenders, and tie-your- own bowties, have established themselves as Philadelphia’s premiere purveyors of all things sweet and the go-to duo for unique treats steeped in history. Their latest venture, Shane Confectionery, located just a few doors down the block, pays homage to the store’s namesake, who had operated the store for generations, and their hometown’s love of candy, in a beautifully and authentically restored shop in Old City.
Seeking a cold-weather counterpart to their ice cream shop, the Berleys bought the store (formerly known as Shane’s Candies) in 2010. The sale included recipes, scribbled on the back of an envelope by the founder himself, for the store’s famed hand-crafted buttercreams, peanut butter cups, caramels, and other turn-of-the century candy—each of which has no more than 10 ingredients. With the sale also came the country’s largest collection of intricate Victorian-era molds—foxes, swans, steam locomotives, and sailing ships—to make clear toy candies, an old-timey confection brought to Pennsylvania by German settlers. These are just some of more than 600 treats, from the traditional to the whimsical, that are for sale at Shane’s.
For the Berley brothers, it’s not just the candies that are nostalgic—it’s the experience, too. A look around the pristine storefront shows an antique cash register and pay phone, walls lined with memorabilia and ephemera of eras gone by, and apothecary jars stocked with penny candy (think Abba Zabba and Bit-o-Honey). The duo, along with head confectioner Davina Soondrum, use period tools and equipment like hand- fused copper kettles and bowls heated over a manually-fired gas stove, to keep the production experience as authentic as possible.
What are some core values of your business?
The local sourcing of ingredients, with honesty and transparency, has become an obsession for us. The maintenance of historical traditions and rediscovery of confectionery traditions once lost. We value employment of human hands to make things in this great country. Integrity in all things.
What are some of the challenges in tweaking your confections for modern palates and other preferences?
Shane’s is famous for their buttercreams, which are very sweet by nature of their ingredients. The modern palate, for finer chocolate anyway, has actually become less sweet. Contemporary interest in dark chocolate with higher cocoa content and the foodie scene has encouraged us to experiment with savory inclusions like salt, bacon, and herbs paired with the sweets. But you still have plenty of folks who like an old- fashioned buttercream!
What were your fears in making the leap into the candy business?
The complete renovation of a 148 year old building was a larger commitment than anything we’d undertaken before. The building was still functioning with 19th century technology in many ways; for instance, the heating system consisted of firing up the gas candy stoves in the morning to warm the kitchen. Then, we had to restore all of the antique machinery, learn how to use it, and make candy with methods from the early 20th century.
And what are its biggest rewards?
Knowing that confectionery will continue to be made onsite, using human hands and local ingredients, fulfills our most basic mission. Having older customers come into the confectionery and reminisce about their parents and grandparents bringing home Shane candies for the holidays is also very rewarding. And when folks thank us for saving a piece of Philadelphia history, my eyes get watery.
What do you like most about your work?
My favorite part of the job is working with period confectionery tools, antique candy molds, glass display jars, and ice cream ephemera for redesigning our menus. I really enjoy handling and talking about these objects, teaching and telling stories through them. Antiques allow me to channel our confectionery predecessors from decades gone past.
What kind of experience do you want Shane’s visitors to have?
We would like visitors at Shane Confectionery, both in-store and online, to experience a world long gone. To feel the cold, polished marble and press one’s nose to the curved glass window. To smell the chocolate being tempered upstairs and dream of its deliciousness. To delight at the colorful clear toys and candy canes in the mirrored display. For children young and old, a place where all sweet dreams can come true; this last bit is sappy, I know, but we do tend to sugarcoat everything.
While Shane’s undoubtedly delights in yesteryear, in recent years it’s come into modern-times with a website that allows candy lovers everywhere to enjoy its sweet treats. Visitshanecandies.com for more.
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