The Cambridge Tootsie Roll Factory, Explained!

tootsie roll factoryA Google Street View of Central Square’s mysterious Tootsie Roll factory.

For my money, there’s no more mysterious building around here than the Tootsie Roll Factory on Main Street near Central Square in Cambridge. It smells so chocolaty sweet—especially if you wander by at the right time of day—and yet it looks so foreboding, with its covered-up windows and dingy outer walls. Really, if it weren’t for the scent and a few small signs, designed to look like Tootsie Roll wrappers, you’d never know what goes on in there.

Nothing about the factory has really ever made sense: Why in Central Square, a stone’s throw from one of the world’s great tech centers? And why so unwelcoming? You’re making candy, why not do tours? I go by the place all the time, but have never actually seen anybody come in or go out. It’s like we have our own Willy Wonka factory right here in Cambridge. Either that, or the place is being run by a Scooby Doo villain.

Today, thanks to a fairly awesome story in the Wall Street Journal, we have some answers. The Journal’s Ben Kesling reports that Tootsie Roll Industries is one of America’s most secretive companies. He writes of the Chicago based company:

How many licks does it take to get to the center of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc.?

No one really knows. The 116-year-old company, run by one of America’s oldest CEOs, has become increasingly secretive over the years, severing nearly all of its connections to the outside world. Tootsie Roll shuns journalists, refuses to hold quarterly earnings calls, and issues crookedly-scanned PDFs for its earnings releases. The last securities industry analyst to maintain coverage of the company stopped last year because it was too hard to get information.

“I think the only way you can get a tour is by jumping over the fence and sneaking in,” said the last analyst to attempt the task, Elliott Schlang of Cleveland firm Great Lakes Review.

So there you have it. Although the story doesn’t mention the Cambridge factory, I’m still a little tempted, as Schlang suggests, to try to sneak in with some friends and have a look around. Or at least I would be, if I weren’t so sure that it would end with us tied up together in rope, with a creepy old guy yelling, “You meddling kids!”

  • Saul Tannenbaum

    Candy factories are secretive because there’s no intellectual property protection for candy recipes. Once you know what goes into a candy and how it’s made, you can just copy the thing. Hence, candy makers don’t let anybody into factories to see those sort of things. (The Hershey “factory tour”, for example, is an amusement park ride.)

    And Cambridge’s history of candy manufacturing is long. Main Street used to be lined with candy makers and the former NECCO factory is just blocks away. See the Cambridge Historical Society’s Candyland web pages for more:

    • Finn

      The Jelly Belly factory tour is actually a factory tour. It’s been a while, but it definitely includes coating/polishing and sorting, and I think also molding them.