BlogThe history of Maine Needhams
Welcome back Mainiacs! On the most recent episode of the Made In Maine podcast, Matt (Owner of Black Dog Ironworks) and Dan (Owner of Box of Maine) had Girard and Malaika Picard from the Maine Needham Company visit. They have such an interesting story to share about buying the company, moving it to Saco, Maine and producing it with their State-Certified Kitchen in the basement of their home. They sat down with the new owners of Needham’s Chocolate, which is known as the quintessential Maine potato candy.
The history of Needham’s dates back to the late 19th Century with a very interesting story. A candymaker, Mr. Seavey, introduced a new item when one of his cooks brought forth a chocolate-covered coconut cream with a secret ingredient — potato. The cook passed it around to see what Mr. Seavey, and others, thought of it. Significantly, the new candy had a square shape. Mr. Seavey and his co-workers instantly approved the candy, but they weren’t sure what to call it. Mr. Seavey said, “Let’s call ’em needhams, after the popular preacher,” that person was George C. Needham and his story includes a voyage across the Atlantic, being caught and tortured by raging natives in South America and immigrating to America. If you’re a history buff and want to read more about Needham’s story, check out the link below. This iconic Maine candy is named for a 19th-century preacher who isn’t from Maine
To be honest, I thought it was strange that Mr. Seavey picked him. I think maybe he admired him? Or was familiar with his preaching. Nevertheless it’s sometimes just best to enjoy the candy for it’s ingredients.
Malaika starts by talking about what makes their Needhams different from other chocolate coconut-potato bars is its size and consistency. Traditionally they are a little more cubical, where Maine Needham company is a bit more flatter and bigger. When Needhams were first produced they would usually hand dipped but in the 21st Century, an industrial chocolate enrober is used. It saves time on production and every Needhams is dipped with the same amount of Chocolate. Girard explains the process of making the inner part of the candy. Daniel jokes by saying “ Are you having to roll a ball of coconut and potato then flatten it out?” Girard responds “ It’s pretty much just like that” , of course everyone has a laugh about it. Girard goes on to explain how it’s made, “ Cooking up the potato and mixing all the ingredients together and I have to roll out basically a sheet into a consistent thickness and then let them cure for a little bit before cutting them into the two inch squares”. After that they do a little bit more curing then it’s off to the enrober where they are covered in dark chocolate. Everyone jokes around about it looking like Willy Wonka chocolate factory, I was actually waiting for someone to make a pun about it.
Next Matt asks about how the Picards got into this type of business. Girard explains that a year before purchasing the business, the previous owner Linda approached them and said “you’re gonna buy my business”. Linda started this business and matured it into what it is now, I personally think she had a few people in mind but chose the Picards to continue growing the company. Sometimes as a small business owner you can easily overthink who you would want to take the reigns of your little “baby” and so I imagine Linda was thinking, pick the wrong people and the business fails, pick the correct people and the business flourishes. At the time Linda came up to them, Girard was involved with creating custom cakes, plus was in the process of certifying his kitchen when she suggested that her business might pair up well with what he’s doing. Girard was interested but wasn’t actually sure how to make Needhams so he spent a few weekends learning and would pay attention to each step while Linda was working. Unfortunately Linda had some serious health issues and the deal was put on hold. Then this past year the business was finally purchased. They packed up a U-haul and moved everything into their basement and began learning all the equipment.
Readers, let me stress that this machinery wasn’t easy to learn, Girard and his wife explain they spent a considerable amount of time figuring out how each machine works and they actually named pieces of the equipment. Meet Guido, He’s Italian- He spends most of his time wrapping Needhams and is very cantankerous. From the picture it seems he made some mistakes.
There’s also Gerty, the chocolate enrober. If you check out the photo below, you can tell it’s probably not the easiest piece of equipment to use. Malaika talks about cleaning out her “ bowels”. During the busy seasons, these machines can produce over 7,000+ Needhams weekly! I can only imagine how many hours of cleaning goes into machines like Guido and Gerty.
So if you’re wondering where in Maine are Needhams available, Malaika mentions that most of their product is sold through distributors but can be found at any Reny’s throughout Maine, Mr. Bagel in Westbrook, Maine Bagel in Scarborough and The Good Life in Windham. Of course you can purchase your own Needhams through Box of Maine, either with a 10-item gift box or just the Needham’s separately in a pack of 6 or 20 pieces. Maine Needham Company is expanding daily and will continue looking for new distributors especially in Southern Maine. Makaila explains that Girard and her are working full time jobs as well. Their first anniversary is coming up in April and the plan is for Girard to switch over as a full-time Chocolatier producing Needhams all year round.
I can’t help but be impressed by their hard work and determination. Owning your own small business is no easy task. The Picards mention they owned other businesses but finally found their calling this past year. Sounds like they have everything figured out so if you’re interested in finding out more about the Maine Needham Company, make sure you stop by and visit them at Facebook. The Picards are always trying new ideas so please take a few moments and go check out their page and leave a wonderful review! I truly love small Maine businesses and we can keep these companies growing by showing our support. Thanks for reading and helping us put Maine on the Map!
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