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Parkside Candy owner shares the sweet side of business

Philip Buffamonte likes chocolate, a good thing considering he owns Parkside Candy, Buffalo’s historic confectionery. Step inside the doors of the flagship location at 3208 Main St. and you’ll find a vintage candy and ice cream parlor complete with a checkerboard floor.

Buffamonte and his late brother bought the business in the early ’80s from the estate of original owner George Kaiser. At the time, Buffamonte was a business instructor and baseball coach at Hilbert College. But over the years – and after the death of his brother – he became Parkside’s pointman.

A hands-on owner, Buffamonte each day supervises the stampede of bunnies, hearts, Santas or shamrocks coming down the candy line. During the summer when he’s not making lollipops, you’ll find him north of the border on his sailboat, a tennis court or at his house at Bay Beach.

Buffamonte, who is 62, likes his sponge candy in dark chocolate.

People Talk: As a kid, did you know your future would be candy?

Philip Buffamonte: No. I grew up in North Buffalo, and my aunt would take me to the Granada Theatre. It used to be right next door. I saw “Mary Poppins” there. And then we’d come here after. I thought it was a great place for hot fudge sundaes.

PT: Was the purchase part of a plan or was it opportunistic?

PB: Well, we had a store in Snyder that we owned, the Yum Yum Shop. My older brother and I started that when I was in Canisius College. We used to buy our chocolate from Parkside Candy. We were looking to expand and Parkside became available. It was part of the owner’s estate. He had three daughters, but they all lived out of town and were not interested. The owner had been leasing it to his nephew for 15 years, but he didn’t want to buy it either. So we bought it. My brother took the lead. I thought it was too big a step for us.

PT: Are you happy?

PB: Yeah. When I was doing both jobs it was a struggle. I was overtaxed, but Parkside has been kind of successful and profitable.

PT: Why does Buffalo have so many candymakers?

PB: Well. I use Merckens chocolate. Merckens is a Buffalo thing. A lot of the local candy stores, a majority probably, use Merckens. It comes from the fact that Merckens originated here. It’s a very good chocolate. There’s probably too many of us for the size of Western New York, but we all kind of have our niche. We’re all a little different.

PT: Everyone’s best-selling item appears to be sponge candy.

PB: Whatever Western New York wants. You move outside Western New York, and no one knows what it is. You bring it to a candy show in Atlantic City, and it gets mixed reviews. I think people like it because it’s light and airy yet crunchy. It’s sweet, and the contrast is especially good with dark chocolate. When we’re outside Western New York, I describe it as having the texture of a malted milk ball.

PT: Could you make sponge candy in your sleep?

PB: I’d rather not, but I do know the recipe by heart. It’s something I could reproduce very quickly.

PT: Are you a hands-on owner?

PB: Yes, I’m right in the chocolate production. I oversee it. I was molding Easter bunnies today. They come in all sizes from 3 inches to 3 feet, which weighs 18 pounds and is solid in the base and the ears. If it were totally solid it would probably weigh 60 pounds.

PT: How did you survive the tanking economy?

PB: We have five stores. About half our business is retail and the other half is wholesale. We also make old-fashioned lollipops. That keeps us busy in the summertime when chocolate is not really strong. During the summer we also make saltwater taffy and fudge. Shipping chocolate in the summer would be difficult. If we didn’t have lollipops we’d be struggling. The candy business is driven by holidays. Chocolate season runs from Sweetest Day in October through Mother’s Day.

PT: How many amusement parks do you sell to?

PB: Ten to 15 all along the Eastern coast on the boardwalks like New Jersey, Cape Cod. If you ever need a travel guide, ask me because I’ve been all over from New Jersey to Bar Harbor, Maine. I like my summertime.

PT: What has candymaking allowed you to do?

PB: I certainly wouldn’t have my Bay Beach house without Parkside. It’s allowed me to be a sailor. It’s given me summers off. I also have a condo in Florida I go to for long weekends in winter. I play tennis. Summer’s getting close. I’m looking forward to it.