GROVE CITY — Len Caric recently sampled chocolate-covered raisins for the first time — one of many pleasant surprises he’s discovered as the new co-owner of the George J. Howe Co.

“I’m hooked,” the chief executive officer said of the sweet treat.

Along with Jim Rudolph, Caric took over the Grove City company in December following the retirement of Dick Beech, one of Howe’s grandchildren who helped run the business over the years along with Beech’s sister Becky May and her husband Ernie May.

Known for its candy, coffee and nuts, Howe is in its 95th year, and Caric vows to uphold the “family” atmosphere.

That includes the next generation. Micaela May, Rich May and Rachel Gilmore — three of Howe’s great-grandchildren — remain at the Grove City business, and they’re excited for the company’s next chapter.

“It’s a great group,” Caric said while giving a tour of the property at 629 W. Main St. recently.

The building houses offices, a small retail store full of fragrant offerings, and the production plant, where candy from suppliers is packaged and coffee and nuts are roasted.

On that day, employees were packaging several kinds of gummy candy plus circus peanuts.

“You either love them or hate them,” Caric said of the nostalgic orange marshmallow.

Caric came to George Howe from Vandergrift-based Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., where he was the CEO and worked alongside Rudolph.

Now, in addition to helping run Howe, Caric, who lives on the south side of Pittsburgh, is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University in the city.

He and Rudolph also own Smashed Waffles, a new restaurant in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh that sells unique waffles and Howe coffee.

They know they have been handed something important when it comes to Howe’s legacy, which started as a market and coffee roaster on Broad Street in Grove City on Feb. 7, 1927.

“It’s an honor to take it on,” Caric said.

The current building has grown along with Howe’s customer base; that includes online sales.

They distribute products to stores, hotels and restaurants 14 states, and Caric hopes to add to that.

He pointed out the nut roaster then moved on to the room where coffee beans are stacked in burlap sacks.

“This is the fun part,” he said, noting how the beans come from countries like Kenya and Costa Rica.

The coffee roaster has a 500-pound capacity, making it one of the largest coffee roasters in in western Pennsylvania.

The roast from Kenya is among the most popular, and things were a bit tough for the coffee business during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of that is rebounding,” he said.

Favorite candies for Howe customers are caramel creams and orange slices. There’s also a selection of sugar-free candy, and some of Howe’s vendors are facing a shortage of sorbitol — a common ingredient in sugar-free sweets.

Caric, who loves the cashews and nut mixes, credits the dedicated employees with keeping things moving forward despite those kinds of challenges.

He’s been visiting the Howe property a few days a week, leaving the day-to-day operations to Francis Smith, president and chief operating officer, and Charlie Gabriel, chief financial officer.

Caric wrapped up the tour at the retail store, where some of the “magic” happens in the room behind the cash register.

That’s where the cupping is done — taste tests of Howe coffees using original equipment.

“This was George Howe’s original table,” Caric said of the oversized Lazy Susan.

For more information about the George J. Howe Co., visit the store at 629 W. Main St., Grove City, call 800-367-4693 or visit georgehowe.com or the company’s Facebook page.

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