How Sweet It Is: Four Generations of Chocolatiers in South Philly
We enjoy bringing you news about the latest restaurants and retail “opening soon” across South Philly. In “Old School Spotlight” we take a look at a business that’s been around a while but is still vibrant and ready to serve you.
John Lerro Candy has been satisfying South Philadelphia’s sweet tooth for more than 100 years from their shop at 2434 South Broad Street. The family-owned and operated business sells chocolate in many and varied forms. There are milk and dark chocolate-covered butter creams, caramels, jellies, nut clusters, pretzels, sponges and bark. From fruit to nuts it’s here, freshly hand-dipped in chocolate – and preservative free to boot! You’ll also find chocolate novelties such as the letters of the alphabet (spell your sweetheart’s name in chocolate!) and mini-baby carriages (baby shower gift!).
Founder Giovanni (John) Lerro arrived in America in 1900. He learned candy making while working at Willow Grove Park north of Philadelphia. With his savings, he traveled back to Italy and later returned to America with a new bride, Anna. By 1912 the newlyweds were selling homemade candy and ice cream at 15th and Shunk streets. Anna coated every chocolate by hand.
They opened the Broad Street shop in 1916. A movie theater located nearby created a brisk ice cream business. With the rise of supermarket ice cream, the shop switched to selling candy exclusively in 1960. By that time production had been moved out of the shop to a facility in Darby, PA.
For four generations the family has proudly passed down chocolate recipes as well as first names. John the founder named his son Pasquale. Pasquale named his son John, and John named his son John Pasquale. Anna is named after her grandmother, Giovanni’s wife.
The business is truly a family affair. Carmela and daughter Anna operate the Broad Street shop. Father-and-son John and John Pasquale run the chocolate production in Darby. Carmella’s daughter Patricia and son Michael help with the business during busy seasons.
Carmela, née Pietrolungo, began working as a sales clerk at the shop in 1943. Five years later she married Giovanni’s son Pasquale. She has worked in the shop, and lived above it, ever since. “She’s 89 years old and she’s been working the same job for 70 years,” marveled grandson John Pasquale. Asked if she plans to retire Carmella emphatically exclaims, “Never!”
John Pasquale, 28, a graduate of Penn’s Wharton School, is proud to be carrying the company into its fourth generation, “My utmost desire in this business is to uphold the values that were instilled in me by my father and my grandfather before him.” Everything in the shop, proudly referred to as “Our Own Make,” is made fresh to order without preservatives. “We don’t skimp on ingredients, and we always use high quality ingredients,” John Pasquale stressed. His future plans include wholesale distribution of the company’s chocolate novelties.
Anna Lerro said that every customer has a different favorite, “but our caramels and butter creams are the best sellers.” These are followed closely by cashew patties and chocolate covered pretzels.
Life-long customer Elaine Papparella, who would only say she’d been shopping at Lerro’s for “decades,” raved about their almond butter crunch, “Oh it’s irresistible! It’s a combination of chocolate and toffee covered in almonds.” She also praised the dark chocolate raspberry jellies.
Occasionally, customers in their 80s or 90s request candies that fell out of favor years ago such as “yellow jack” (a molasses-based pulled candy) and “plaited mint” (a braided hard candy). “We try to accommodate these requests the best we can,” said John Pasquale.
The company’s website has received orders from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and as far away as Japan. Lerro’s always tries to oblige, but, as John Pasquale points out, “home-made chocolate doesn’t travel well in the heat.”
While the family welcomes the international business, Carmella said that what she loves the most is “chatting with customers new and old.” John Pasquale summed it up, “We’re grateful to our dedicated customers and thank them for all these years of support. And we’re always happy to welcome new customers!”
The shop is open10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday To order online, visit http://www.lerrocandy.com/.