By David Hamilton,
A five-generation legacy is not something the kin of Bauer’s Candies take lightly.
For nearly 130 years, the Bauer family have carried on the legacy begun in 1889 by Frederick Bauer, in Louisville. Now, his great-great-grandchildren are helping run the business in Lawrenceburg and are poised to potentially take it over themselves someday.
As the current owner of the renowned Modjeska and caramel candies business — and the only female head the company — Anna Bauer recalls the day she told her father, Fred Bauer, that she wanted to work at the factory.
With a solemn look and his hands on his hips, Fred Bauer at first told his daughter he did not want her to take that path.
“He said, ‘No.,’” Anna Bauer said. “He gave me that firm stance and he said, ‘Absolutely not.’
“I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He goes, ‘I want more for you than this. This is a basement business, Anna.’”
But Anna said she convinced him that she wanted to work there and raise her children around the business, just as her parents had done. The company would continue to grow as time went on.
Now, the so-called basement business has taken its game to another level.
Over the past two years or so, Anna has seen the company’s celebrity grow. Capitalizing on Bauer’s QVC customer base, Anna has made a number television appearances, she has recently gotten to meet celebrities to the tune of businessman Kevin O’Leary — also known as “Mr. Wonderful” — and even Martha Stewart.
The notoriety even spans the nation. In June, Bauer’s served as the official candy of a high-profile, California wedding between James Irvine and Susan Jeske. Irvine, a descendent of the family that inherited the thousands of acres of land now known as Irvine, California in Orange County, and Jeske, the CEO of the Miss America Pageant, still keep in touch with Anna.
“I was like, ‘Is this a prank?’” Anna recalled saying when she took a phone call about the wedding.
As the company continues to grow in popularity, Bauer takes solace in knowing that her two sons, Matt and Mike Satterwhite, are truly invested in the business.
Anna remembers when Matt, the elder son, was just 1 year old that day she asked her father to be part of the business. Now that he is 31 and Mike is 29, she appreciates seeing their dedication to the business.
“I want them to have their own careers, their own ambition,” Anna said. “And what I find that is so wonderful is that some of their ambitions are now turning towards the candy company, because they see just how much it means to not only their mother, but to themselves.”
Matt, a health and P.E. teacher for Franklin County Public Schools, works in the manufacturing side of Bauer’s with the help of girlfriend Holly Dickert, while Mike, a retail operations manager at Keeneland Association in Lexington, manages the marketing side of the business with his wife, Regan Satterwhite.
As a child, Matt recalled living the adage of being “a kid in a candy shop,” with many stomachaches coming as a result, he said. As he grew, Matt would work with his mom for several years after high school and form a deeper understanding of Bauer’s.
“I’m really happy that I got to grow up around the business and learn some of the ins and outs of the company,” he said. “Being able to work underneath my mom, she’s a great boss. It’s always been fun when you go to work with her.”
Mike described he and his brother as the “Yin and Yang” when it comes to the company, because each has their own unique contribution to make. Both sons said they experience deep joy and pride when they look at what their mother has been able to do with the family business.
“I think that pride is what allows me and Matt to become so invested and so enthused with the company and the product itself.” Mike said. “We’ve always had the freedom to do whatever we want to do in our lives and our career paths.
“That’s kind of where we are now … We have progressed in our careers, but we know that the family business is always the goal. It’s always what we want to pursue and continue to improve and make a great company for everyone involved to be proud of and to continue into our next generation.”
While the company is chock-full of history, the potential of a fifth-generation of owners is just one exciting prospect of the future for Anna.
In the more immediate term, she is watching the recently unveiled new Modjeska and caramels flavors gain popularity. These flavors include sea salt, pumpkin spice, maple brown sugar, chocolate peppermint (during the winter season). Especially popular, she said, are their bourbon sea salt caramels.
Another plan is a package redesign, which Anna said came straight from the minds of her two sons.
Redesigns might not only be in store for the packaging, but the entire Bauer’s facility as well. Anna said she hopes to have windows all around the building one day so that people can better see how the candy is made. If you want to do that right now, call the store at call (502) 839-3700 to check for tour availability.
With the future bright and her sons primed to continue their work with the company, Bauer said she still wants to stick around for a good bit of time.
The devotion that the Bauer’s give to their craft is embodied by something Anna’s mother, Janet, once told her more than two decades ago. Janet, who also ran the company, became ill with pancreatic cancer in 1995, and she would tease Anna during Christmas before saying goodnight, “’Remember, if I die tonight, our customers come first,’” Anna recalled.
Janet would make it through that Christmas but would pass away in January 1996, making Anna the official inheritor of the company. But those words would one day ring in Anna’s head again.
A couple years later, Anna’s great-aunt, Edna Bauer, had fallen ill around Christmastime. One night, Anna’s father called her to say that her great-aunt was sick and that Anna needed to drive over, though he wanted his daughter to drive safely.
When she arrived at the house, Anna saw that Aunt Edna had passed away, and that her father could not tell her before she arrived out of worry that she would not be able to drive safely. At that point, her mother’s words came to mind.
“The customers have to come first,” she heard.
With heavy hearts, Anna and the bunch started another batch of candy and made sure all the customers’ Christmas orders were fulfilled.
Since then, Anna said she does not work on Christmas Eve, because even though the customers still come first, she knows the importance of spending time with family.
Over the years, that word — “family” — has come to mean more than just her relatives. The Bauer’s Candies staff, which she raved about for their tireless work and dedication to their customers, has also become its own family, Anna said.
Going even further, Anna called her customers family. She remembered another instance when one customer had passed away and her children — also customers — came in to pick up candies for the rest of the siblings. To their dismay, Anna began rattling off their names as she laid out the candies.
She gave them a couple 2-lb boxes to take to the service, which they at first said was too much to take. But Anna insisted.
“I said, ‘Your mom’s been a longtime customer and you all have and she’s part of our family,’” Anna said. “’So take this and share it and you all tell some memories of the Modjeskas and how they’ve affected your family with you and your mom.’
“My customers are definitely an extended part of this family.”
Going forward, the family business should remain just that, as Anna said selling the company is “not an option,” despite having some offers. And right now, her sons plan to keep it all in the family.
“Me and my brother, we plan on continuing this legacy,” Matt said. “This (company) that my mom has built for us, it’s really important to us. We place a high amount of value on the name, Bauer’s Candies, and the legacy that we hope to continue going forward down the road.”