Land of Milk and Toffee

If you grew up in California, especially Southern California, chances are you grew up on See's candies. They were hard to miss. Of all the candy companies that were founded in Los Angeles, only See's has been able to combine an old-fashioned image with real estate smarts to become ubiquitous in Southland malls and high-traffic shopping districts. One trick: Whenever possible, stores were placed on the shady side of a downtown avenue because when it's hot, that's where potential customers want to walk. Another advantage: The company established close relationships with California mall developers beginning in the '50s to ensure they would get prime corner locations.

It was in 1921 that the first See's shop opened on Los Angeles' Western Avenue, near Beverly Boulevard. A year earlier, Canadian Charles A. See, intrigued by the classic land-of-opportunity draws of California, settled his 65-year-old mother, Mary See, in a Pasadena bungalow, borrowed her candy recipes and eventually used her picture in the packaging of the candies his company produced.

This year, when See's current president and CEO, Charles N. Huggins, invited The Times to take a peek inside the candyworks at company's La Cienega facility--the company's headquarters are in South San Francisco these days, but the L.A. plant produced almost half of See's 27,709,000-pound candy output in 1995--we jumped at the chance. Would we find a Willie Wonka wonderland? There was a chocolate river of sorts, but in this guided tour, our host encouraged us to sample the wares fresh off the conveyor belts. Of course, we like to think we were less greedy than Veruca Salt, et al.

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