If you are passing the Wurlitzer Building in North Tonawanda these days, you may pick up the smell of chocolate.
It might be the soft dark or milk chocolate sponge candy that the company is best known for. Or it could be chocolates stuffed with marshmallow, jellies or caramel fillings.
Platter’s Chocolates, founded in 1938, opened Friday on the ground floor of the complex, producing hand-cut candy in a building that once cranked out organs and jukeboxes.
"We want to make sponge candy synonymous in Buffalo with the chicken wing," said John DiGuiseppe, vice president of business development. "When they come here, we want to be able to
give them a tour, show them how it's made and let them go home and make purchases using our website spongecandy.com."
On a chocolate brown and white tiled floor, Chris Wildey added gelatin and water to a batch of sugar and water in a large copper kettle. Then, Wildey added baking soda, which will cause the mixture to rise and create the air bubbles inside that gives the candy its familiar crisp, foamy center.
The 56 pounds of chocolate mixture will make 75 pounds of candy, company president Joseph Urban said.
In another room, workers helped move the finished dark chocolates along on a long assembly line.
The new facility's climate controlled atmosphere and new HVAC system is expected to allow the company to make candy all year for the first time.
“We’re hoping we can produce all year-round,” DiGuiseppe said. “We are the only family that in September, when it’s cold, we’re happy. Then we had to stop making chocolate in May, when it’s warm.”
Visitors can watch the chocolate being made when they come in. The production facilities are surrounded by large windows, and a long hallway also meant for tourists to look inside.
Platter's moved to the location from a smaller building, allowing the company to double its production of chocolate by making it year-round in a larger space.
DiGuiseppe said the anticipated increase in revenue will allow the company to hire high-paying career management positions for the first time.
The $1.3 million project was helped by $200,000 from the New York Power Authority. Empire State Development gave a $175,000 credit, with the promise of 35 new jobs.
"This is a sweet success story that New York State loves to support," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who told a crowd gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony she was "a chocoholic" with a particular weakness for sponge candy.
Urban said the company plans to ramp up production, especially the peanut butter sponge candy which, he said, "as fast as we can make it is out the door."
Tom Austen, who owns the building with his wife, Jane, said the 23,000-square-foot space Platters now occupies – 6,000 more square feet than its previous location on Oliver Street – is the largest leased in the cavernous space. He said he's planning to create a small museum in early 2017 near the chocolate factory that will celebrate the history of the Wurlitzer company.