Penny candy or fine chocolates, Wolf's delivers SWEET TOOTH SERENADE

February 01, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Each time little fingers reach for a small paper bag on the bottom shelf and stuff it with sour balls, Tootsie Rolls or starlight mints, Ann Wolf relives her South Baltimore childhood.

"I lived in a neighborhood that had a corner store run by two ladies, Miss Kate and Miss Irene," she recalled. "I remember what a thrill it was to go in with 5 cents and pick out five different pieces of candy. It's a memory you never forget."

Mrs. Wolf and her husband, Gene, have their own candy store now -- Wolf's Finest Chocolates on Philadelphia Road in Rosedale. It's more than a store; it's a neighborhood institution that has a growing mail-order business.

Adults know Wolf's for its fancy confections -- staples of almost every wedding and baby shower in Rosedale. For kids, it's one of the few places you can still buy a piece of candy for a penny.

The store is a sensory paradise. The smells of fresh chocolate and caramel waft from the kitchen. Ann Wolf's soothing voice and infectious laugh roll through the store as she holds customers captive in conversation.

She likes the little customers best. When the Wolfs opened their store eight years ago, Mrs. Wolf made sure penny candy was available.

If an adult walks in while a young customer is agonizing over just what to buy, the adult waits until the child is finished.

"I think that's an important message to kids, that they are just as deserving of our attention and respect as adults," said Mrs. Wolf.

It's all done on the honor system.

"Once in a while, I'll say, 'Let me check the bag to make sure you didn't miscount and only got nine pieces.' And every once in a while I'll find 11 pieces," she says. "They start with the excuses -- 'But Miss Ann, I swear I only put 10 pieces of candy in there.' But that's usually all it takes. It won't happen again."

Near a phone is a cluster of photos, mostly of infants and young children. "People think they're all my grandkids," Mrs. Wolf says with a laugh. But some are youngsters who frequent the store. Others are birthday customers.

The Wolf family moved to Rosedale 32 years ago. Candy-making wasn't Mrs. Wolf's lifelong ambition. But she lost her accounting job when her employer closed and a bout with lung cancer put her in the hospital.

"I spent a $10 fee and took a class in candy-making for one day," Mrs. Wolf recalled. "I told myself after the class that I could do this. I got some books at the library on candy making and started making candy out of my house."

She began mixing the ingredients by hand on a pool table topped with plywood.

"I gave some to my twin sister to take to her work and soon I started getting calls from her co-workers asking me how much my candy sold for," said Mrs. Wolf. "I told them, my goodness, I wasn't selling the candy. It was just a hobby."

But the calls kept coming and she changed her mind. Soon, tractor-trailers were backing up to her house, unloading supplies and loading candy for shipment. After five years, with every room in her house piled high with candy boxes and supplies, Ann Wolf decided she'd had enough of working at home.

"I told my husband either we open up a store or quit," said Mrs. Wolf. So they moved into a store in the 8300 block of Philadelphia Road.

The store developed a neighborhood, and then a regional following. Although the Wolfs see themselves as a local business, they're starting to ship candy across the country.

Mrs. Wolfe also has developed a following by greeting the cruise ships that call in Dundalk. "The captain of the Meridian buys 4 pounds every time. He says he'll have a mutiny in the middle of the ocean if he doesn't," Mrs. Wolf said.

Besides candy, the store itself displays a variety of wood carvings, quilts and other crafts made by neighbors, mainly senior citizens, that are sold on consignment.

In the back, Gene Wolf mixes different flavored fillings and keeps an eye on chocolate and caramel in a half-dozen melters.

Mr. Wolf, 63, started making candy to give his wife a hand. Two years ago, he retired as a warehouse supervisor to do it full time.

"I didn't like her recipes," he said. "So as I began making more and more of the candy, I changed them all. I won't tell her the ingredients of my candy. She's so good-hearted, if someone came in and asked for the recipe of their favorite kind of candy, she'd give it to them."

Ann Wolf, 59, doesn't mind. She busies herself with designing new candy arrangements, such as the pure chocolate cornucopia stuffed with 2 pounds of their finest candy, or the Pride of Maryland box that includes chocolate crabs, shellfish, a horse and black-eyed Susan.

But she really likes working in the store because she likes the people.

Janice Lloyd, a Rosedale resident and loyal customer, says she can't find better candy anywhere, but that isn't what keeps her coming back.

"It's the way they deal with their customers, especially Miss Ann," Mrs. Lloyd said. "Miss Ann takes the time to get to know her customers, their names, their children. When you enter the store, she doesn't just wait on you, she welcomes you."

The Wolfs also give back to the community as much as they take, neighbors say.

During the summer, when chocolate sales slow down, the Wolfs sell snow balls from their candy store. Several times during the summer, Gene Wolf will haul his ice crusher and flavored syrups to the Prince of Peace Day-care Center. He sells the snowballs to the kids for the pre-inflationary price of a quarter.

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