by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photographs by Bert VanderVeen
Just an hour from here, the quiet town of Lexington has an outsize role in our holiday celebrations. It’s famously the longtime home of Red Bird peppermints, those melt-in-your mouth mints that graced many a Southern grandma’s candy bowl. The mints are made by parent company Piedmont Candy Co., which was founded by Edward Ebelein, a German immigrant, in 1890, in an industrial park just outside of town. And while you can find Red Bird mints everywhere from big-box stores to grocery stores, it might be most fun to encounter them at The Candy Factory on Lexington’s Main Street.
Annette and Wynn Conrad own this specialty candy and antiques store. It opened in the 1970s and was originally owned by the Piedmont Candy’s Ebelein family. “I remember coming here as a teen, when I worked at a retail store down the street,” Annette says. “When we had our lunch or dinner break, we’d go to get ice cream next door, then swing by The Candy Factory for a treat afterwards. Everyone in Lexington grew up taking their children here.”
In 2018, as later generations of the Ebelein family were ready to wind down ownership of the store, they looked for a Lexington family to take over the shop. “They didn’t want to sell it to someone who didn’t have roots in the community,” says Annette. “It’s been such a joy to get to know children and then grandchildren, as people bring the next generation.”
Today, The Candy Factory carries a mix of old-fashioned candies like Whatchamacallits, Mallo Cups, Zotz and Coconut Flags — and, of course, Red Bird peppermints. At Christmastime, people drive in from the surrounding counties to shop for gifts, Annette says. “It’s just a happy place!” Her husband Wynn agrees: “You can’t be sad when you’re here. When little kids start crying, I say, no crying in the candy store!” SP