The Atkinson Candy Company of Lufkin still makes its delicious Chick-O-Sticks and Peanut Butter Bars the same way Grandpa did back in 1932
The Atkinson Candy Company of Lufkin makes candy the old-fashioned way. A Texas tradition since 1932, the family-run confectioner still uses grandpa's recipes and machinery, some of which are more than 50 years old, to make their popular Chick-O-Stick, Peanut Butter Bar, and other sweets.
"Just the other day," says Eric Atkinson, the company president and grandson of the founder, "an old guy told me the taste of our candy had changed. I told him it was his taste buds that had changed, not our candy. We're still making it the same way my grandfather did."
Basil Atkinson Sr. was almost forced into the candy business by the Great Depression. Laid off from his job as a machinist, he started distributing candy and tobacco products to stores to support his family. When a Jacksonville candy-maker raised his prices, grandpa decided he could make the sweets cheaper and better.
In 1932, the Atkinson Candy Company started by making peppermint sticks, pecan divinity, coconut haystacks, and peanut patties those red disks loaded with peanuts and sugar that are now rather difficult to find, according to Atkinson. Over the years, the company has concentrated on 10 kinds of sweets in more than 100 varieties.
The company began making its signature candy, the Chick-O-Stick, from an old East Texas recipe in the early 1950s. Made from a mixture of peanut paste, pure cane sugar, and coconut, the 8-inch-long golden rods have been compared to a Butterfinger bar without the chocolate. The candy was commonly known as "chicken bones" around the South.
"The most popular question I get asked is: 'Where did the name Chick-O-Stick come from?'" Atkinson says with a laugh. The best his grandfather can remember is the name was simply a business decision. When the candy-maker expanded outside of Texas in 1954, a new name was needed that would remind folks of the popular snack and yet set it apart from the competition.
At the time of its introduction, the name was modern and quite chic. Now it's ranked up there with Cherry Mash and Bit-O-Honey with nostalgic candy connoisseurs. It's one of the few hometown favorites that you can find in specialty candy stores and on the racks in convenience stores.
Competing against the giant candy manufacturers has had its ups and downs, Atkinson admits. "We've relied on quality and our reputation to get us through the tough times," he says. A few years ago the price and lack of availability of sugar almost put the company out of business. While other regional candy factories have moved their plants to foreign countries, Atkinson has stayed in his hometown and expanded.
In 1984, Atkinson saved the San Antonio-based Judson Candy Company from going out of business. "They made the best sour cherry balls in the world," he says of the family-owned business that started in 1899. The manufacturing plant in the Alamo City also makes pralines, jelly orange slices, and the orange marshmallow peanuts, or circus peanuts. "Now there's a quirky piece of candy," Atkinson says. "It looks like a peanut but tastes like banana."
Although Atkinson stays faithful to the original recipes, he has experimented with changing the flavor of the peanut bar to grape, cherry, and other flavors. He has also purchased the rights to the Long Boy, a Tootsie Roll-like candy. But that's as close to milk chocolate as he wants to get. "To make chocolate in Texas, you either have to be a newcomer or a fool," he says. "I'm not telling you anything new when I say it's hotter'n hell here. Shipping chocolate is a big problem."
If your local store doesn't carry the variety of Atkinson Candy that you crave, then you can buy it direct from the factory at www.atkinsoncandy.com or at 800/231-1203. The company had to discontinue tours of the factory, so they opened a retail store in the building with a video of the candy-making process. "Visitors still get so see and smell the candy being made," Atkinson says, "and buy the candy at wholesale prices." The Candy Kitchen is on the west side of Lufkin at 1608 W. Frank Ave. (TX 94) and opens Monday through Friday 8:15am to 4:45pm (closed noon to 1pm).
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