Candy is a family affair for Jose Alban, his parents and his siblings. The Albans opened the Candy Jar by 1892 Chocolates in Bordentown this past January and so far, the shop is bringing a whole new kind of sweet to Bordentown residents—even in the middle of a global pandemic.
And it all started with a chocolate bar. Originally, the Albans had been selling their signature 1892 Chocolate Bars to various businesses in New Jersey.
“We started creating the chocolate bars about six years ago,” said Jose, whose family is from Ecuador. “My father, also named Jose, has always been a businessman, and taught us much about the business world and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
“We all agreed we wanted to come up with an excellent chocolate product to sell, and so we decided to research the history of cacao in Ecuador, looking for a specific type, taste and aroma of chocolate that would be just right for the market.”
The Albans named the bar after 1892—the year that Ecuador “exported the most amount of cacao to the world,” Jose said.
“The dark chocolate cacao trend is so big right now, because of all the health benefits, and we did a study that showed that 70 percent cacao is the best percentage to have in a chocolate bar: not too sweet and not too bitter,” he said. “The family all got together—my brother and sisters, little nephews, all the kids—and we started testing and tasting different chocolates to come up with the right one.”
The Candy Jar also has a location in Collingswood. In both stores, the Albans sell their chocolate bars in a variety of flavors, from sea salt to coffee, passion fruit and hot chili.
But the chocolate bars are just the tip of the sugary iceberg for the Albans. Jose said the family also takes pride in its chocolate-covered pretzel line.
“Customers love it,” he said. “We have everything from the ‘kitchen sink’ chocolate-covered pretzels (pretzels covered in virtually every flavor imaginable), along with M&Ms, Almond Joy, Milky Way, Snickers and Kit Kat-covered pretzels. People are amazed at how they look and how we make them. They are very popular.”
Another big hit? “Our chocolate-covered bacon,” Jose said. “Bordentown customers love that. And, our chocolate-covered Twinkies and Devil Dogs, too.”
Licorice lovers are in for a treat here, too. Jose said he and his family try to find “weird, hard-to-get” flavors, like beehive licorice and licorice soft drops.
Why did the Albans decide to open their second shop in Bordentown? The family has been involved in the Bordentown community for the past few years, bringing their wares to the annual Cranberry Festival.
“It is an awesome festival, and we have always done so well there,” Jose said. “So, we started thinking about expanding to another store, and as we go to know Bordentown, which is such a nice, clean town, with such friendly people, we got very interested in opening up here.”
The Alban family’s philosophy is that all these sweet goodies bring families together—an important concept, since family is a key part of the Albans success.
Jose’s mother, Mary Eugene Alban, decorates the front windows of the two locations and helps a lot in various candy presentations for the two shops. Jose’s sister Paula is “the main force driving The Candy Jar; she pretty much takes care of the operation,” Jose said.
Their brother, Javier, recently moved back to the United States from Ecuador, and is also in the food business, opening up a New York style pizzeria and empanada restaurant there. He is also a chef, who helped the family perfect the recipes for the 1892 chocolate bars.
Another sister, Nena, is married and lives in Ecuador. Jose has extended family that live in the Collingswood area as well, and, being such a strong family-centric group, they love the idea of families coming in as a unit to sample chocolate treats.
“The main idea is to bring in everyone, the youngest to the oldest, because we offer both new candies and nostalgia items,” Jose said. “The grandfather who comes in with his grandson, for example, can find things from his own childhood, like candy cigarettes, Sugar Daddies, candy buttons on paper, Turkish taffy, Chowards Scented Gum, giant Smarties candy rolls, chocolate ice cubes, candies that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. He can show his grandchild these candies that he had as kid, and the older generation gets such a kick out of finding them here.”
For Jose, the business involves “commuting” back and forth to Ecuador. He travels there for three months to supervise the chocolate process, and he brings it back here when he’s done.
But he doesn’t mind.
“I love that we have everything for every type of chocolate lover,” he said.
Indeed, the range of chocolate spans from the gourmet chocolate lover to the kid who loves to blow bubbles with chewing gum. At the shop, customers can find fine bonbons and chocolate truffles, as well as Mallo Cups, Bazooka gum, Airheads and even ZotZ, a hard candy with a fizzy, sour center.
“That’s an unusual one, the ZotZ,” Jose said. “That’s like a Pop Rock candy.”
Finally, The Candy Jar offers a specific line of products for special events and parties, including custom candy flavors, chocolate-covered pretzel trays, chocolate variety trays, chocolate truffle lollipops, chocolate-covered strawberries, gift baskets, candy bouquets and decorated balloons. The shop will also do custom-made corporate packages of all chocolates, candies and pretzels
Naturally, the current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Alban family, but, “people both in Bordentown and Collingswood have been very support of us,” Jose said. “You can say that is the best thing we have taken out of the situation: the support has been so overwhelming that we even applied for a grant that Bordentown City offered and we got it. This is why we can continue operating.”
Jose and his crew are also using the time to finish the company website and further populate its online store. As far as the brick-and-mortar locations go, both stores are taking online and phone orders for delivery and curbside pickup. The store is open for pickup Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jose believes the diversity of his sweet products and a welcoming atmosphere in both his shops is what is making his candy business such a success.
“It is so great to see customers get so excited about our products, like the different chocolate-covered pretzels, and the chocolate-covered bacon,” he said. “We are definitely glad that we opened in Bordentown.”