This picture from the early 1970s captures Eddy Taylor and Arlene Mayfield making chop suey brittle at the second Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen location in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo submitted)
For 35 years, 68-year-old Eddy Taylor nurtured the biggest sweet tooth in Rutherford County – his own.
Across four decades, however, there were thousands who showed up at his family’s candy shop to soothe their sugar fixes. They did not go away disappointed.
Like his father before him, Eddy Taylor served as the candy man, and the his family enterprise was the closest Murfreesboro ever came to claiming its own version of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Three generations of the Taylor family concocted sweet treats such as chocolate bark, peanut brittle triangles and heavenly hash at Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen from 1960 to 1995 at three locations.
“When you walked in the door, the chocolate smell knocked you down. Chocolate just permeated the whole building,” said Eddy Taylor, fondly remembering the virtual candy land created by his parents, Weldon and Ruth Taylor.
“Nobody would believe how much candy I ate,” said Eddy, who began working in the shop after school and on weekends when he was a high school freshman. “I brought it home at night and ate it beside my chair. I sure miss that.”
Later, Eddy and Ruth Taylor, his wife of 44 years, took over the operation and also taught their children, Hoge and Molly, the trade.
The original Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen sat from 1960 to 1971 in the Florence community near Roselawn Cemetery on U.S. Highway 41, a site now taken by a used car lot. Relocating in 1971, the Taylors planted the second Candy Kitchen on Chaffin Drive, where a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant thrives today off Interstate 24. Then the candy makers moved to River Rock Boulevard in 1990 where the Candy Kitchen stuck it out until 1995.
At one time, Eddy said, there were 13 billboards tantalizing travelers along the highway from La Vergne to Manchester. When I-24 opened in 1970, they could only afford three or four billboards, but those still did the trick.
“It was a fairyland for adults and children, the place where you went to celebrate any special occasion,” said Ruth Taylor, a Central High alumnus who began working at the Candy Kitchen at 18, the same time she began dating Eddy.
“It was unique like most small, handmade businesses," she said. "It had a relationship aspect to it. It wasn’t that you bought a gift for someone. You bought a gift for someone that was made in your hometown. It was a very personal thing.
“We were part of most of the families in Murfreesboro at one time or another as they celebrated some happy occasion from weddings to births to birthdays to Valentine’s Day with Ole Taylor’s. We were definitely a part of the community life,” Ruth Taylor said.
Until the store closed, Ruth Taylor handled merchandising, packaging, displays, promotions and training sales people.
“Even now, people come up and say how much they miss our candy, which happens every blessed week, believe me, and they still want to know if we are still making candy," she added. "They say, ‘When I was a little girl, my mother used to bring me there as a special treat’ or ‘When I had our first child, my husband bought me our first box of heavenly hash.’"
She said people always relate the candy to another person or happy event - not just the product but the connection.
"That really tickles me," she said. "Our peanut brittle was almost transparent, and our fudges melted in your mouth and on your fingers. It’s a very good thing to look back at a product made over 35 year, and we’re totally proud of the job done."
The family of Herman and Mary Ella Clark, who live in Eagleville, were among the beneficiaries of his 30-year-long Valentine’s Day custom.
“When I was about 12, Daddy started a tradition of bringing us a little box of Valentine candy,” said Theresa “Rita” Hill, the daughter of Herman and Mary Ella Clark. “It was soon after that the Taylors opened their Candy Kitchen. He started going to the Candy Kitchen, and what started as a little-bitty Valentine box became a big Valentine box for each one of us (brother, Tam Clark, and sister, Joyce Clark Merritt), and then he would give my mama and my grandmother a heart-shaped box.
As they grew up and got married, she said, Herman Clark added more Valentine boxes to the tradition for his grandchildren and extended family.
“That was my Daddy’s big deal of the year, giving out Valentine candy from Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen, because it was the best. It sure was good,” said Hill, who favored the chocolate peanut clusters.
While the Taylors bought a few candies such as jelly beans and candy corn, the vast majority of their offerings were produced on the premises.
“We started out making 40 or 50 different candies and ended up with over 160 different kinds,” said Eddy Taylor, who was the candy maker and took care of the business end of things.
The Candy Kitchen had a showroom with display cases and a U-shaped counter. Behind the showroom was a cooking kitchen with two gas stoves, several sizes of copper kettles, two marble slabs and a hardwood table that we made candy on.
“There was a chocolate kitchen, which we had to keep cool, with a dipping table," he said. "At first, we melted chocolate in a double boiler. Then we got some electric chocolate melters.
“Really, everything we sold was made by hand. We made our own hard candy, lemon drops and butterscotch drops. We had 10 to 12 different flavors of sugar-sanded hard candy. We were making candy in 20- to 30-pound batches.”
“We had one whole glass window of chocolate bark," Eddy Taylor said. "It looked like bark on a tree. They were 1- to 2-inch squares of plain chocolate. We had 12 to 14 varieties of bark. Our other best-sellers were peanut brittle and peanut brittle triangles, which were brittle dipped in milk chocolate and shaped like a triangle. And there was our heavenly hash, made of marshmallow, chocolate and nuts, and we made four different fudges.”
And did he mention the chocolate clusters made with almonds, peanuts, pecans or black walnuts?
You bet he did.
Of course, this is man who never bought any commercial candy when he worked at the shop.
“It’s not very good when you compared it to Ole Taylor’s,” he said with pride.
In fact, Eddy Taylor said he cannot name just one favorite candy but has three: dark chocolate honeycomb chips, dark chocolate cream de menthe and dark chocolate lemon jellies.
For him, the treats his father made offered tastes sprinkled with Tennessee heritage.
Eddy’s father Weldon Taylor, a native of Alamo, Tenn., earned an agriculture degree at the University of Tennessee and came to Rutherford County where he became county agent in the mid-1930s. He later went into the milling business, marketing feed at Jamup Mills, which was located at the present site of Cannonsburgh.
“After the mill closed, he was looking for something else to do. We had friends in Paris, Tenn., who agreed to teach us how to make candy,” Eddy recalled. “We spent two weeks in Paris to make enough candy to supply the store with, and they came up and helped us for two weeks, so we had a total of four weeks training, and then we were on our own.”
Except during the holidays, the majority of the Candy Kitchen customers were tourists who drove in from the highways and interstate. The days before Christmas and Valentine’s Day brought in the local candy consumers.
Eddy Taylor recollects how the chocolate-covered cherries went out the door like gangbusters at Yuletide. In spring, it was the chocolate-covered strawberry cordials.
“A fresh strawberry dipped in a white fondant, then dipped in chocolate,” he said. “After a short time, the fondant would turn to liquid, so when you bit into it all the liquid just dropped down on your shirt. Boy, that was good.”
Open seven days a week, Eddy Taylor said they employed eight to 10 full-time workers and five part time.
“Things peaked at Christmas. We hired a lot of girls to work after school. We had a lot of them who worked all the way through high school until they graduated from college,” he said.
Among that group was Murfreesboro’s Melanie (Cameron) Maggart, who joined the Candy Kitchen staff at 15, as a sophomore at Riverdale High School and later when she attended Middle Tennessee State University.
“I started at Ole Taylor’s in November 1989. I worked there until the last day it was open, Aug. 15, 1995," she said. "I worked the counter, cooked candy and even dressed in a bunny suit for Easter. It was just like working with your best friends. I had a lot of great times there. It was sad when it closed. We felt like those walls held our most precious high school secrets.
For anybody that has seen Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factor, the Candy Kitchen, with the sweet smell of chocolate wafting in the air, was just truly magical, she said.
"There have been many times I wish I could go back to that," she said. "It was a great time in life. It was a happy job, with people coming in to get candy whether it be Christmas or Valentine’s or Easter, although it might be chaotic and crazy at times, especially in the peak seasons.”
Her favorite sweet treat, she said, was the heavenly hash or the peanut butter triangles.
“We could taste test,” she adds, “and I did.”
Eddy Taylor admits the Candy Kitchen was “a really unique business. It’s not everyone whose dad owns a candy store.”
Of course, his children can say the same thing. Not only did Molly sleep behind the counter as an infant but she and brother, Hoge, were employees.
“It was the best childhood ever. It was a great way to grow up,” Molly Taylor Oliver said. “I worked there from the time I was old enough to carry a tray around and say, ‘Would you like a sample,’ through college. I could be with my family all the time.
“In high school, all of my best friends worked there with me. It was the most inclusive environment because everyone I loved and cared about was close to me. It was a very warm and loving place, and customers would say the same thing,” said Molly, who doted on the dark chocolate almond clusters.
Hoge Taylor was practically raised in the Candy Kitchen from cradle to early adulthood.
“It was part of my life from the day I came into this world," he said. "Realistically, I probably began working there for a paycheck when I was 14 and worked there off and when needed until I was 19. I did lot of work in the early years of doing the stuff I loved to hate, like taking out trash, later I was actually making the candy.
The Riverdale High School graduate said it was the place to be in the world.
“It was family. It was candy. It truly was a family business," Hoge Taylor said. "The people that worked there off and on over the years still remain friends. I miss most the experiences that I had with our extended family growing up, and now that I have three children of my own, I miss that experience for them."
As for his favorite, well, like everything else that originated in the Candy Kitchen, it now, alas, is extinct.
“We tried to make a candy similar to a Goo Goo," he said. "We called them Raggedy Annies. They were our handmade marshmallows with our own roasted peanuts and carmel made from scratch and covered in chocolate. The ladies there, Annie Mahaffey and Lorene Elrod, who were like surrogate grandmothers to me, would take the extra ingredients from the Raggedy Annies and make some especially for me. They were about three times as big as what we sold. My parents would fuss at them from time to time."
While the Candy Kitchen flourished in Rutherford County, there were satellite stores in the late 1960s at Madison Square Shopping Center and Green Hills Shopping Center in Nashville. They branched into the Outlets Limited Mall in the 1970s and sold their candies at Opryland and Opryland Hotel in the 1980s.
Sadly, the Candy Kitchen closed its doors in 1995.
“It became harder and harder to make a profit. We tried to sell it but couldn’t find anybody who wanted to work that hard, so we decided to liquidate,” said Eddy Taylor, who drives for Chevrolet of Nashville and enjoys woodworking and playing guitar in his spare time.
“At the time, Ruth and I asked our children whether they were interested in keeping the business going. They both said no, but since then they both have said, ‘Boy, I wish we were still in the candy business.’”
The ending proved bittersweet.
“It was not hard to give up the 29-hour days or nine-day weeks. When you’re a business and produce what you sell, it is all consuming,” said Ruth Taylor, who was known as “Baby Ruth” to friends who were fellow members of Retail Confectioners International. “It was hard to give up being a part of a creative venture that meant so much to so many people. We were very proud of our product and wanted to go out on top.”
She said she misses most “the people, being part of their happy time. I miss serving our customers in creative ways, and I miss our Ole Taylor’s family, the people that we worked with.”
“When we closed," she said, "that next Christmas at midnight on Christmas Eve, I got a desperate call from someone well-known in Murfreesboro who said, ‘Well, I know you closed the shop. Do you happen to be making any at home that I could buy?’”
When asked her favorite candy, Ruth Taylor responded, “That’s impossible. Whatever was hot and coming off the table. We made an exquisite bourbon cream that I liked, and the English toffee melted in your mouth, but our chocolate work was superb. Of course, I’m prejudiced.”
Ruth Taylor retired recently after teaching in Rutherford County schools for 10 years and now caters special events and spends as much time as possible with their five grandchildren.
Since the couple closed the Candy Kitchen 17 years ago, Eddy has only once made candy at home.
“I made a batch of strawberry cordials one year, and that’s all I ever done,” Eddy Taylor said, noting he has all the family candy recipes but none of the equipment to make it.
It seems that when the Candy Kitchen closed, it closed for good.
And while its legacy remains sweet, it’s not nearly as sweet as the homemade candies that poured out the doors of a Murfreesboro icon, once the sweetest spot in town.