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Confection Affection with Shane Confectionery

Confection Affection with Shane Confectionery

Out on Market Street in Philadelphia’s Old City, it’s 2016: boutiques sit shoulder to shoulder with Benjamin Franklin’s print shop, city buses rumble by, and sleek hipsters mingle with tourists on the red brick sidewalks.

Inside Shane Confectionery, though, it could be the turn of the last century. The old-fashioned store windows, decorated with a quaint, snowy miniature townscape, cheeky old-fashioned nods to Saint Nick and Krampus, and fantastical confections straight from a sugar plum dream, only hint at the bounty inside. Through the door is a candy wonderland that takes the breath away from children and adults alike.

The eye goes upward first, to the painted gingerbread moldings and intricate whitewashed tin ceiling. It moves to the shelves that line the walls, in which vintage candy advertisements share space with colorful candies and Shane’s famous clear toy candies—a traditional Pennsylvania-German holiday treat that is still handmade in the shop for Christmas and Easter. Behind the marble counters stand smiling young women in 1910s-era skirts, starched white blouses, and lacy aprons, ready to fetch chocolates from the gleaming glass cases or ring up imported European bonbons and mustache-shaped lollipops on the working antique brass cash register. Yet modernity is here too—credit cards are discreetly swiped behind the counter, and the hippest names in high-end chocolate are featured alongside Shane’s own confections.

Shane opened its doors in 1911, but the building has housed confectioners since 1863. Brothers Eric and Ryan Berley, who own the famous Franklin Fountain ice-cream shop next door, purchased the building from Barry Shane in 2010 and reopened the candy business in 2011. There was never any question of replacing the beautiful vintage architecture; instead, says Eric Berley, the architecture inspired the business: “The limitations of brick and mortar are to our advantage, because it gives us something to focus on. We opened the Franklin Fountain in a space that had original tin ceilings and mosaic tile flooring—we really like to preserve history through the space.” That history — that sense of belonging to some older era of handcrafted woodwork and penny candy — is an inextricable part of the feel and focus on Shane’s.

“The arts and crafts movement and the history of doing things by hand is a very strong value for us,” says Ryan, and confectionery is our medium. Indeed, the sense that candy is indeed an art form pervades the glass cases. The brothers closely follow what they describe as micro food revolutions in the wider culinary world and bring home what speaks to them, including artisanal beekeeping: “We have four hives on the roof,” says Eric, “and we use that honey in a number of our confections.” Creative flavors — including honey lavender and apricot basil chocolates, honey Earl Grey taffy, and chocolate-covered bacon — are made in-house by hand, as are classics like mint buttercream and the Whirley Berley, a rich chocolate-coated nougat. The lavender and mint also come from a garden on the roof.

While the front of the shop is rooted in the early 20th century, the back room reaches back all the way to the 18th— fitting, here in the urban cradle of the American Revolution — with a chocolate and coffee bar inspired by the neighborhood’s colonial past. Drinking chocolate was a revolutionary act in the 1770s, when American colonists boycotted tea to protest British taxation. Here at Shane, manager and chocolatier Kevin Paschall creates the café’s newly introduced bean-to-cup drinking chocolates, made with single-origin cacao beans with flavors ranging from fudgy to floral. (The flavors change from harvest to harvest, Paschall explains, and he’ll recommend pairings on request). Also popular on the seasonally changing menu are Thomas Jefferson’s Nightcap, a rich, creamy milk-based hot chocolate, and the Royal Spanish Chocolate, with chili and cinnamon, as well as brewed cacao — hand-ground with a Mayan-style stone matate — and updated treats like the refreshing iced coconut batido. The back room, which was renovated in 2014, is paneled in dark wood and offers a few tables and seating, while its shelves offer souvenirs, books on chocolate, and hard-to-find candies, like Southern favorite Goo Goo Clusters.

Paschall and the Berley brothers are especially proud of Shane’s newly introduced bean-to-bar program. Using carefully sourced single-origin chocolates and simple, subtle flavors (try the Tuscan jasmine), they’ve begun making tasting squares. Paschall envisions using these from-scratch chocolates in bars and throughout the shop’s confectionery, but that’s in the future: for now, Shane Confectionery is focusing on making room to grow. Ice cream making operations for Franklin Fountain, now in the back kitchen behind the café counter, will move to an adjacent building, and chocolate-making will expand from its current small corner in the upstairs kitchen to the café space.

Being steeped in history isn’t just about the shop’s location in the heart of Old City, though; the Berley brothers grew up that way. Their mother opened an antique store the year Ryan was born, and Ryan still operates an antiques business on the side. The Berley family home was always full of old magazine advertisements, vintage furniture, and even clothing — “We had a costume room in the Victorian farmhouse we grew up in,” says Ryan. “Eric and I both did Civil War, World War I, and World War II re-enacting.” Ice cream in particular played a key role in the family’s love for the past. “Our parents decorated their dining room like an old-time soda fountain,” Ryan explains, and joined a group for ice-cream history enthusiasts called the Ice Screamers (“as in, I scream for ice cream,” Ryan explains).

Small wonder, perhaps, that the brothers would go on to surround themselves with the trappings of soda fountains past. Even their fashion sense is rooted in this old-fashioned aesthetic: “Eric had the first handlebar mustache in Philadelphia in the 21st century!” Ryan insists. “There’s been a hipster wave of them in the last few years, but Eric was doing it 12 years ago. And bow ties. There’s a whole vintage resurgence. It’s fantastic.”

Between Shane and Franklin Fountain, the Berley brothers employ 60 people, many of them young and new to the workforce. What’s remarkable about that, says Ryan, is that “they’re creative and willing to do whatever it takes. They really want to do things with their hands and learn an older way of pressmanship — getting away from technology and doing things with our amazing bodies, not just with our brains.”

Hard work with a tangible, high-quality product is a value that connects Shane’s to the neighborhood’s patron saint, Benjamin Franklin, says Eric, who in his younger days worked as a tour guide at Franklin’s grave site and Christ Church, both just across the street. “Franklin was most proud not of being a diplomat or even gaining America’s freedom, but that he was a craftsperson and a printer by trade. He took a lot of great ideas from the past and made an opportunity for himself. He gave back in a way that was creative, enlightening, and sustainable for his reputation.”

Their businesses, say the Berley brothers, seek to imagine how Franklin might have run his businesses in the twenty-first century: thoughtfully and at a high standard, yet responsive to new ideas. As they quote Franklin: “Let passion lead, but let reason hold the reins.”

Video by Al Green, Photos by Cathie Berrey-Green

This story was featured in Spoonful’s Winter 2016 issue.


Sarah Grey is a Spoonful monthly columnist. Her writing on food has been published in Edible Philly, Serious Eats, Lucky Peach, and more and anthologized in Best Food Writing 2015. She also writes on language and politics at sarahgreywrites.com and is a full-time freelance editor at Grey Editing LLC. When she’s not wordsmithing, she’s usually knitting, serving meatballs at fridaynightmeatballs.com, or reading with her daughter. She lives in Philadelphia.

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