Nello Ferarra II, owner of Ferrara Pan Fitness Factory, 1525 Circle Ave., loves owning businesses in Forest Park. Aside from the gym, his investments in town include several buildings and the Wingstop restaurant on Harlem Avenue.
“Forest Park is a wonderful place for business,” Ferrara said.
But he wants to make it clear that although he and his family owned the candy company with his last name for generations, that’s no longer the case. Recently, billboards and picketers slamming “Ferrara” or “Ferrara Pan” during a dispute between the candy company and the carpenters’ union present a risk to him and his current business, he said.
Already, he’s gotten calls from people both wondering about the protestors and his involvement (he has none, since he’s no longer associated with the candy company). And he’s worried about future impact on his gym, which bears the Ferrara name – his name.
In 2012, Ferrara said, Ferrara Pan merged with Catterton Partners, which bought a controlling interest and changed the name to Ferrara Candy Company, dropping the “Pan” from the name.
The “Pan” referred to an actual pan, the tumbler in which the candy was produced or “panned.” There were both copper hot pans with Bunsen burners and cold aluminum pans, said Ferrara, in which the soft-centered candies like Lemonheads were made.
Today, although people often still refer to the candy company as “Ferrara Pan,” the “pan” isn’t officially or legally part of its name any longer.
It’s Ferrara Candy Company, and it has branched way out from Lemonheads and Boston Baked Beans, adding offerings that include Trolli, Fun Dip, Keebler, and Little Brown Bakers, who produce Girl Scout Cookies.
In 2018, a few years after the merger, Ferrara sold his remaining interest in the candy company after his father died, and since then the Ferrara family has had no connection to the company.
His father’s death had a big impact on Ferrara. It was esophageal cancer that took his life, undiagnosed until it was late stage, leaving him with only a few months.
“I always thought he could beat anything,” Ferrara said. “There was no tragedy too big. Nothing he couldn’t conquer. And then I learned he was human.”
Ferrara’s father and grandfather, Nello said, always took care of their employees, with generations of people from the same families working at the factory. It was, he said, a family business, and not just because it was family-owned.
“The employees were family members,” he said. “Now? The employees are nothing more than numbers there.”
And that is, he said, another reason he doesn’t like the association people keep making between him and the candy factory.
Still, though, Ferrara’s brought what he learned from the factory to the gym, instilling into his students the values of hard work and dedication he learned from his grandfather and father.
“We find ways to motivate each student in different ways,” Ferrara said, akin to the way his family worked with employees at the candy company. “Each kid is different. We know how and when to tighten and loosen the screws.”
He and his trainers teach the philosophy of hard work – and life – to their students too.
“There’s a chess mindset involved in boxing,” which is a primary focus at the gym, Ferrara said. “It’s an evolving equation.”
Sometimes when he tells his students that, they complain about math class, asking why they’re forced to learn math they’ll never use.
“I tell them they’re not learning math because they’ll use those exact skills,” Ferrara said, “but because they need to develop that type of thinking.”
Ferrara Pan Fitness, which is set up with multiple bags for boxing workouts, a boxing ring for sparring, exercise equipment and an outdoor area, is open at reduced capacity.
Ferrara said they’re allowed 50 percent by health guidelines, but they like to keep it closer to 35 percent. “It’s all about the comfort level,” Ferrara said.