Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, a brand that faded away in 1980 after being one of America’s most popular candy bars for nearly 100 years, is being revived by Ken Wiesen, a Long Island attorney who quit his private practice to devote himself to the project. “It was one of those candies that stood out in my mind as being really special,” he says.
After 15 years of work—with the part-time help of his college-age son and one administrative assistant—Wiesen relaunched the brand on July 1. Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy is now sold at 10,000 online and retail locations, including museums, county fairs, Universal Studios, and the five chic Dylan’s Candy Bar stores, founded by Dylan Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s daughter. “We’ve sold more than 750,000 bars in two months,” exclaims Wiesen, now president and CEO of Bonomo Turkish Taffy, LLC.
The retro packaging is a big part of the appeal. Wiesen says he found an “old school, semi-retired guy” to update the ’50s-style wrapper design “as if it were shot through time.” This meant digitally reproducing the frankfurter-like hand lettering with its quirky letterspacing; the curvaceous lower-case ‘b’ topped with a form that looks like it was meant to evoke the minarets of old Istanbul; the funky “Crack it Up!” script; and the “BONOMO” logotype with its perfectly round ‘O’s’ and condensed ‘N’ and ‘M.’ The colors for the vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and banana flavors weren’t changed, and neither were the bars’ foil liners. To comply with FDA requirements, nutrition facts and a tamper-proof seal were added.
“I was into candy,” explains Wiesen about his career change from general practice lawyer to candy entrepreneur. “People were chatting and reminiscing about Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy on blogs. The trademark was about to expire, so I grabbed it from Tootsie Roll and litigated to get the remaining rights.” In order to learn the business, he went to candy shows, studied the distribution and supply chains, and interviewed the original Coney Island plant managers. He tinkered with the recipe for years to get just the right “crack” and taste that would resonate with nostalgic Baby Boomers and appeal to their children and grandchildren. “It took many tries until we could say, ‘That’s it!,’” he says. “Tootsie Roll shelved the brand because they’d changed the formulation and sales were poor. We wanted to be true to the original product and image in every way.”
No one is more delighted than my old friend Richard Bonomo, who’d long been lamenting the demise of his “family brand.” Last week, he showed me a picture of the updated bar on his iPad. “Do you know what typeface this is?” he asked. I told him it wasn’t a typeface, but hand lettering, and then I wanted to know the whole story. Richard is the great-great-nephew of Albert Bonomo, a Turkish-born Sephardic Jew who opened a candy factory in Coney Island in 1897. Albert’s son Victor is credited with developing the nougat-like formula for a batter of corn syrup and egg whites that could be formed into bars so hard that they cracked when you whacked them on a hard surface and fell into small pieces so chewy that they would last for hours in your mouth.
“You wouldn’t believe how many calls and e-mails I get every day,” says Wiesen. “People want to share their fond memories of how special this candy was, how they used to hide pieces under their pillows at night, how the bars lasted through double-features. Now we need to build loyalty with the younger generation.” The strategy is working. “They sell them at the candy store on Fire Island,” says Bonomo, “and I’ve never anything fly off the shelves so fast.”
Wiesen has been collecting all the Bonomo memorabilia he can find, including packages from every decade. And he’s organizing an open casting call at Dylan’s Candy Bar on Third Avenue in Manhattan for kids to sing the jingle from the 1950’s commercial:
You spell it B-O-N-O-M-O, Bon-oh-mo, Oh, Oh, Oh!
We’re gonna taste Turkish Taffy.
Hey, it’s delish!
Taste Turkish Taffy. Answers every wish!