Friday, December 20, 1996
Doschers raise canes, and memories

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Doschers
Harry Doscher Sr. and Harry Doscher Jr.
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Sit on Santa's lap at Kenwood Towne Centre. Naughty or nice, you get an edible piece of Cincinnati history.

Visit the Christmas village downtown in the lobby of the Provident Bank Tower. Kids get to chew on the same thing.

It's a candy cane. The good kind. An original Doscher.

These canes are hometown made, the old-fashioned way. The layers of red and white candy are rolled into each other by hand, not sprayed on. Everything, down to the cane's hook being hand-twisted while the candy's still warm, is done in Cincinnati at Doscher's Candies on Court Street.

For 125 years, four generations of Doschers have made candy canes downtown. Two generations, 68-year-old Harry Sr. and his 26-year-old son, Harry Jr., made 500,000 canes this season.

Laid end to end, that's enough six-inch pieces of red-and-white striped peppermint-flavored candy to stretch from Doscher's front door to the suburbs of Dayton.

Push open that door and the scent of peppermint greets the nose. It mingles with the faint essence of vanilla.

The peppermint lingers after three months of making at least two 95-pound batches of candy canes every day. The vanilla comes from the French Chew candy bars a machine is slicing in a side room.

Shhhhh-Whack! Shhhhh-Whack!

A mechanized blade cuts into a slab of vanilla nougat. French Chew bars tumble onto a conveyor belt.

The Harrys watch the bars' progression and wipe their eyes. It's not that they're getting all choked up over their work. French Chews are dusted with cornstarch. The white powder coats everything in the room, the eyelids of Harry Sr. and Jr. included.

Harry Jr. likes the bar cutter. It's a new piece of machinery. And, he's an engineer by training. So, he's all for modernizing the operation.

His dad warily eyes the machine and says, ''I'm not so sure.'' He grew up cutting bars by hand.

His son reminds him the machine works three times faster than the hardest-working Doscher. Harry Sr. shakes his head and remains unconvinced.

By appearances, the two Harrys are unlikely elves. They're tall and don't wear funny little red and green outfits. Their clothes are white, in color and from the cornstarch.

Still, the Harrys could fit right in with Santa's helpers.

The Doschers are quiet. They work long - cane-making days start at 7 a.m. - and hard. Try lugging a copper mixing bowl the size of a kettle drum filled with 95 pounds of just-cooked candy cane mixture that's a steaming hot 180 degrees.

Besides, they were destined to make candy canes for Christmas. Doscher's was founded by a guy named Claus.

In 1871, Claus Doscher started making candy at his store on Fifth Street. Today's Court Street location is across an alley from where a Depression-era Doscher's plant once stood on Central Parkway.

In the manner of all sons who work next to their fathers, Harry Jr. and Harry Sr. bicker over their business.

Harry Jr. calls it ''heavy and hard. Back-breaking.''

Harry Sr. replies that his grandfather and father did it. Harry Jr. can do it, too.

The son doesn't mind the work. ''I'd just like to update it from the 17th century.'' He realizes that to the outsider, ''candy-making is a fun business. You sample it all day. That's our quality control.''

Calling candy-making a ''fun business'' is as close as either Harry Doscher will ever get to bragging about his job.

Ask Harry Sr. how long Doscher's has been making French Chews and canes and he'll just say, ''100 years for one, 125 for the other.''

Few companies can say they've been making something for 100 years. Harry Sr. realizes this. But he attaches no special importance to it.

''We just make candy.''

He's only half right.

His family's factory has made candy canes for 125 years. Santa's helpers have given them to generations of little kids. So, Harry Sr. doesn't ''just make candy.''

He makes sweet memories, too.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.