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Candy history was made when Ferrara Pan Candy Co. recently merged with Farley's and Sathers. At the same time, Elmhurst Historical Museum's "Sweet Home Chicago" exhibit is spotlighting Forest Park's longtime candy maker. Meanwhile, I found living history, though, at the original Ferrara Pan Bakery.
The bakery is operated by Nella Davy, (Sal Ferrara's sister) and her husband Bill. Apart from pastries, candy and incredible delights like cannoli cake, the bakery features an extensive lunch menu and pizza.
Nella's grandfather, Salvatore Ferrara, was 15 when he arrived in New York from his home in Nola, Italy. He taught himself English and served as an interpreter between Italian laborers and their railroad foremen in Texas. After he returned to Chicago in 1908, Salvatore started a bakery at 722 W. Taylor.
One of his sidelines was the candy-coated almonds known as "confetti" that were popular at Italian weddings. By 1919, candy had surpassed pastries in sales. So Salvatore partnered with two Italian families to sell a variety of panned candies. They built the impressive brick building at 2200 W. Taylor in 1920. The second floor contained the rotating drums that produced the candy.
Meanwhile, Nella's grandmother, Serafina Ferrara, continued to run the bakery in Little Italy. She became known as the "Angel of Halsted Street" - godmother to more than 200 children and friend to powerful politicians like Mayor Richard J. Daley. She was also a dynamic businesswoman. Serafina started two of Chicago's first banquet halls, the Chateau Royale and Ferrara Manor.
There was a need for these halls, as weddings were limited to hotel ballrooms, church basements and small venues like the hall on the second floor of Serafina's bakery. Plus, banquet halls created more demand for Ferrara baked goods. Back then, the focal point of the wedding was the cake. Bill showed an album of astounding creations, including an 8-foot-high cake, with a 5-foot-wide arch for the couple to walk through. It fed a thousand guests.
Tastes have changed over the years, Nella noted, and health-conscious Americans are no longer big on pastries and desserts. Wedding couples aren't walking through frosted arches; they're serving their guests cupcakes.
When Serafina's bakery was torn down to make room for the UIC campus, she moved her confections to the first floor of the candy factory. Serafina may have been a saint, but when Nella spoke of her late father, Nello Ferrara, she understandably choked-up. The visionary candy maker invented the Atomic Fireball and Lemonhead, which resulted in the company outgrowing the second floor of the bakery. The machinery was moved to Forest Park in 1959.
Sal Ferrara is also a farsighted candy maker. He started the company's line of chocolates. Besides graciously introducing me to Nella, he said he would give a statement about the merger as soon as he's able.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.