Tom Woody looked inside his Christmas stocking and saw candy. Mind you, it was not quite what he would have asked for.
The 28-year-old Des Moines resident pulled out a Twin Bing: two handmade mounds of cherry nougat covered in peanuts and chocolate. They’re made in Sioux City, Iowa, and Woody’s Aunt Cathy in Kansas thought it appropriate for the Iowa side of the family.
“I made the comment out loud there that Twin Bing is just a poor man’s Cherry Mash, and my Uncle Richard said, ‘That is exactly right. You hit the nail right on the head there,’ ” Woody said about the family’s confectionery clash.
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Woody said he’s been a Cherry Mash fan since his childhood. His dad had treated Woody and his brother each to a Cherry Mash on visits to the hardware store. Woody’s dad had been treated by his own grandfather.
This is exactly how Cherry Mash candy bars, made in St. Joseph, have found each new generation through 100 years.
“Certainly, it’s not through advertising,” said Barry Yantis, CEO of Chase Candy Co. in St. Joseph. “The only advertising we can afford is to directly support the sale of the candy bar, like a Price Chopper ad, a flyer.”
Today’s product is the same Cherry Mash that grandparents and great grandparents tasted through the generations. Yantis said essentially nothing has changed in the formulas he has.
Same mound shape. Same combination of maraschino cherry, nuts and chocolate. Even wrappers from the 1930s would look familiar to buyers today.
A century of Cherry Mash also has turned it into a tradition in its hometown, where the treat caps a holiday light show at Krug Park.
Others have found new uses for the candy bar.
A few years ago, Jasper’s Restaurant in Kansas City put them to use during National Cannoli Month. That’s right, a Cherry Mash Cannoli.
And there’s the Cherry Mash Cyclone available at the HiBoy Drive-In in Independence.
Cherry Mash reaches its centennial after having beaten many rivals at the same company.
Yantis said Chase Candy Co. had made 40 varieties of candies in the early years. He rattled off unfamiliar names like Pierce Arrow, Candy Dogs, Brunch bar, ’Tween Meals, Chase Nut Bar, Black Walnut Nut Roll.
“Cherry Mash is the only one that survived,” he said.
Chase Candy Co. has remained a local family business through its long run. Check that — a two-families business.
Three generations of Chases ran the company before it changed hands in the early 1940s. Sugar was scarce, rationed during the war, and Yantis’ uncle owned the Pepsi bottling operation in Kansas City.
“Where do you get a sugar ration? You buy a candy company, so that’s what he did,” Yantis said.
Yantis’ father came in to run the candy business, and Yantis has been there since 1974. The second family’s third generation is there, too, as son Brett Yantis is regional sales manager.
Today, 20 employees work at Chase Candy Co., and many have been there for 15 to 20 years. Sales total $3 million a year, with Cherry Mash accounting for a bit more than half. Peanut brittle, coconut and other niche and seasonal candies make up the rest.
Cherry Mash sales have been concentrated in the Midwest and part of the West, from Minnesota to Texas, and Illinois to Colorado. A few years ago, Yantis addressed those calls he gets from Cherry Mash fans who’ve moved to Massachusetts and other lands. Chase Candy teamed with Hobby Lobby and it now offers Cherry Mash throughout its 47-state network of stores.
Any Cherry Mash fan can tell you that not everyone loves them. Or can even tolerate them. One detractor wondered on Twitter why Santa would leave him a Cherry Mash #idratherhavecoal.
Cherry Mash also just missed the top five in a 2003 “yuckiest” candy survey at Halloween. (First, and worst by far, were those peanut butter taffies in orange and black wrappers.)
But if Cherry Mash has survived World War, a Great Depression and a Great Recession, it can handle being passed up by a few shoppers – perhaps for another 100 years.