2018 Nominee Three: Waggoner Chocolates

When young Joe Waggoner and his two sisters visited their grandmother, Iola London, she sat the youngsters in front of the fireplace with whiskey and cigarettes to pass the time while she played cards with friends. It’s in Joe’s genes to look at life from a slightly skewed angle.

Joe Waggoner’s grandfather was Harry London. Yes, the same Harry London who started Harry London Candies with his father in the 1920s. Iola, his second wife, became his partner and an instrumental part of the company. They turned the company over to Joe’s father and mother in 1972. The company’s history is dotted with creative chocolate breakthroughs, including Super Kiss, Hot Lips, Buckeyes, Turtles and more. Joe added to the family legacy during his time running the business. But when the company sold to a larger corporation in 2003, it was time to strike out on his own, making chocolate lovers, worldwide, very happy, indeed.

Today, Joe Waggoner is doing things his way in the original factory where his family first found the secret to making popular fine chocolates. He’s put his own creative twist on his family’s legacy and is again making chocolates he’s proud to share with family and friends. The factory is now busting at the seams, but it has not been an easy road.

When Joe started Waggoner Chocolates, a lot of business associates and friends thought he was off his rocker. Making fine chocolates is a difficult and expensive process that isn’t kind to new start-ups. Joe went forward because he knew he’d finally figured out “the secret” to success in the candy industry. It had been part of his family history, but he didn’t really understand until he got older. It is elegant in its simplicity: “Quality before profits.”

Looking back Joe realized the international success of the family company was built on the passion of his grandparents and parents. They had the creativity and business sense to outlast other old-time chocolatiers. But, the company didn’t really take off until his family’s passions were married to his own love of tinkering with machinery. He developed chocolate and peanut butter Buckeyes and much more. Just as important, he developed machinery to mass produce them to exacting quality standards. The same formula was found in every one of the family’s products, but when the company became part of a larger corporation, he knew he’d have to leave to continue the family’s quality tradition.

Joe’s ability to design products and solve unique production problems kept him in business at first. He rebuilt the family’s original chocolate factory in his spare time and developed new machines capable of mass producing his family’s heritage to their original quality standards. He never scrimped on ingredients or hard work. Word spread along the internet and soon Waggoner Chocolates were selling product throughout the United States and some foreign countries. Now the walls and sparkling clean floors of the old factory are straining to keep up with business growth.

People looking for these family heritage products also get to taste the new products Joe and his growing team develop every year. They couldn’t afford many failures in the beginning, so Joe takes special pride in teaching his team what it takes to make a successful product. After all, it’s in his genes.