Coveted Caramel

Appears in the June 2024 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Grandpa Frank’s Candy honors a family recipe

From top: Coffee, pecan, and plain caramels
From top: Coffee, pecan, and plain caramels

Prior to the 2021 launch of his boutique caramel business, Grandpa Frank’s Candy, Mark Bridges loved playing Secret Santa. Every Christmas Eve, he’d box up bundles of his homemade caramels and leave them on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors. “I always told my wife, ‘I’ll be back in a few hours,’ ” Bridges says, “but it usually took me half the day.”

These feel-good deliveries were a way of honoring the memory—and candy-making prowess—of his beloved Grandpa Frank. The duo’s adventures read like the script of a Werther’s Original commercial. They were inseparable. Frank taught Mark how to fish, how to drive his first car, and the joys of giving back to neighbors via service and volunteering.

And at the close of every year, Grandpa Frank would drop off a batch of his famous caramels in tins embossed with different scenes from American history. While in graduate school, Bridges decided to try and pay his grandpa’s kindness forward by making his own caramels. Although Grandpa offered some tips, Bridges realized that candy-making was more art than science. Sourcing quality ingredients was, of course, essential, but so too was patience. Grandpa Frank’s caramels required his full attention. Always stirring. Always monitoring their temperature and gauging their viscosity until they were just right.

Mark Bridges

After years of experimentation, Bridges cracked the code—his caramels are gilded with nutty brown-butter notes. After Bridges made the caramels his own, Grandpa Frank decided to bequeath him his formula: a handwritten recipe dated January 24, 1995.

Bridges says he’s tinkered with the recipe a little. He now sells three flavors—coffee, pecan, and plain caramel—online and at local farmers’ markets. Yet he still experiences the most pleasure from prepping orders for good causes and nonprofits. He’s at 100 feel-good partners and counting, including a special focus on ALS charities. “I think that my grandfather would be most proud of the good we’ve done,” Bridges says. In the end, it’s the giving that’s become even more fun than the cooking, he notes. Worth remembering, wouldn’t you agree, with Father’s Day right around the corner?


Photos: Prime Images Photography (caramels); Grandpa Frank’s Candy (Mark Bridges)