In the spirit of the holiday season, WKAR’s Katie Cook went to Fabiano’s Candies last week to find out what makes it the Lansing institution that it is.
The snow is falling quietly outside Fabiano’s Candies on Michigan Avenue. But inside, it’s another story. With Christmas about a week away, the place is packed with locals, anxious to buy some holiday treats. The bell on the door chimes every few seconds as a new customer enters.
“You've got to love it, because this time of year you don't hardly sleep. You're making candy!” says Madeline Fabiano Blair, a petite woman in her seventies. On this particular day she’s wearing a vibrant purple sweater, which pops against her white hair. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about her family’s candy-making business, which started with her Grandfather in 1924.
“Well he came from Cosenza, Italy. I don't know where he first learned it,” she laughs. “It's just always been a part of us.”
Her father and mother married, brought the business from Holland, Michigan to Lansing, and passed their art on to Madeline and her siblings.
“The key is you can not skimp on the ingredients. If it says butter, you use butter, you don't try to substitute. And that was the one thing that my dad pounded into our heads!”
Fabiano’s customers are most likely to crowd the candy counter for their huge selection of chocolates.
“Our number one sellers are almond toffee. Our caramel is outstanding. I just had a conversation with a lady on the phone about the caramel and she says, 'well what do you DO to it?' There again, good ingredients, good product.”
Their other claim to fame is their handmade candy canes and ribbon candy.
“We make 13 flavors of candy canes, the same number in the old-fashioned ribbon candy. There are very few in the whole United States that still do it by hand. I have nephews and my own children who can make them and that's a rarity. We're very proud of that.”
Madeline wanted to take over the family business from the time she was a little girl. To her it’s about more than the candy, it’s about tradition. It’s her family’s heritage. She tells a story of a time when her sister tasted some caramel one of her sons had made.
“One day she said to one of my sons, ‘Dan, what did you do to this caramel?’ And of course he's thinking, ‘oh my goodness, what did I do, I really messed it up.’ And he said, ‘well why?’ And she said, ‘because every time I eat it it's better.’ And then he says to her, ‘well Aunt Marianne, I do what Grandpa taught me, and I learned from the best.’ And I get very emotional about that. Because my children are so blessed having had that opportunity.”
And it’s also about the people who have supported Fabiano’s over the years. The community of customers who keep coming back.
“You know that's a wonderful feeling. People respond to us and our customers are wonderful. As you see we have lines and they don't seem to mind waiting.”
Much to Madeline’s delight, the family business is passing down to the 4th and 5th generations. Her son owns the shop with her, and her granddaughter has taken to candy making too.
“As long as there's interest, we'll be here. Well I won't be, I'm getting old! I always said I would not retire until I knew we were on solid ground, and we've done that. Sometimes it's a struggle, but things have just fallen into place and it's a good feeling. And the tradition and the heritage that my grandfather left us cannot be taken away from us.”
If you’re still hoping to snag some Fabiano’s sweets before the holiday, they will be closed December 23rd- 26th, getting some much needed rest.