Dolle’s nears 100 delicious years of Rehoboth Beach history

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

There aren’t many iconic businesses in Rehoboth Beach.

But for nearly a century, Dolle’s has been serving up caramel corn and salt water taffy. Located at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk, the Rehoboth Beach legend is still going strong.

Ibach’s  is now part of the Dolle’s candy and chocolate empire, but the basics of taffy, brittles and that ooey, gooey caramel corn remain customer favorites.

Dolle’s began in 1926 and moved to its present location in 1927. During the storm of 1962, the 3,500 pound taffy machine fell through the floor and into the sand below. The machine was rescued and is still in use today, but the nor’easter largely destroyed the building, which was undermined and collapsed.

Tom Ibach now owns the business started by his grandfather Thomas Pachides and Rudolph Dolle.  His grandfather bought out Dolle’s interest in the business  in 1959, but they continued to use the Dolle’s name.

In 1991, Ibach’s Candy By the Sea went into business just a few doors down on Rehoboth Avenue.

Ibach has now run the business since 1984, when his grandfather died after a lifetime of candy and confection making.

Ibach says the secret to  Dolle’s success is easy to explain. “The location and the quality are the biggest things. We are some of the few people around who still make candy. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

“The fact that we make it. That’s it. It’s different. It sets us apart from everybody else,” he said.

Customers can watch the fudge or candy being made and they know that it’s fresh and local, he said. Dolle’s uses fresh roasted nuts, real cane sugar, Lewes Dairy cream and other quality ingredients.

It may cost a little more to make, but Ibach says it’s worth it. “Use the real butter and real cream and you get a quality product. There is no shortcut for the quality.”

Dolle’s and Ibach’s pride themselves on their ingredients and their old-style recipes, many of which harken back decades. Paschides had been a candymaker in Philadelphia where he had run a luncheonette and chocolate shop, Ibach said.

His grandfather did not write his recipes down and Ibach still regrets that loss. But Ibach still has plenty of old family recipes and candy making experience to fall back on. “I can figure out a lot of stuff,” he said. “But it is a little more complex than people think. All the formulas are different. You don’t just throw a few things in a pot.”

The most popular chocolates remain chocolate covered pretzels and  non-pareils.  Peanut butter taffy is still the favorite taffy flavor, although chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are also big sellers.

Dolle’s has had a dozen flavors of taffy for at least three decades, although there were only ten at one time. Ibach said the black walnut flavor was dropped. “Sometimes we will try a grape or a pineapple or something different. Every once in a while.”

Caramel corn and fudge are hugely popular. Other popular candies include the almond butter crunch and the peanut and cashew turtles, he said.

But the business has changed  considerably because of modern inventions like air conditioning. Without air conditioning, modern candymakers could not make such a variety of candies in the summer because it was too hot for the chocolate to set well.

“I make things my grandfather wouldn’t even dream of doing,” Ibach said. Before air conditioning, candy shops would make chocolate in the fall, winter or spring and then fall back on brittles, caramel corn and other treats in the summertime.

The Dolle’s website says that Rehoboth Beach began to grow rapidly after 1962. “The Dolle’s business grew as well. While the methods and formulas used to produce the caramel corn, taffy and other products remained the same, the equipment used has changed to accomodate the larger quanities. For example, taffy, which was produced in 18-pound batches in copper kettles, is now made in copper kettles which handle 70-pound batches. A mechanical pulling machine replaced the hook on the wall that the candymaker used to stretch the taffy. Instead of several ladies cutting the taffy with scissors and wrapping them by hand, a machine is used that can produce nearly 600 pieces per minute.”

It was a bit of a tough year for the candy business because of the down economy. But as long as people have a sweet tooth, Dolle’s future seems bright. It’s now almost a year-round business that extends past the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day summer season. “Now, January is our down time,” he said.

Easter remains a hugely busy time for anything chocolate, ranging from Easter eggs with cream centers to chocolate dinosaurs to the ever-popular non-pareils. “I like Easter a lot,” Ibach said with a smile. “It is the number one time for chocolates.”

Not even the owner can resist being tempted, especially by the dark chocolate. “I don’t eat it as much as I used to. I just say I’m checking the quality. That’s my excuse.”

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