With their chocolate moose pops and and iconic lighthouse logo, Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections is probably one of the state’s most well-known home-grown brands.
Today, the candymaker produces about 200,000 pounds of treats per year from its factory in Freeport, and supplies a sweet taste of Maine to stores all over the world. But the company began the way so many Maine-based craft businesses do — as a bootstrapped family-run startup.
In 1983, long before downtown Freeport was the outlet-shopping mecca it is today, teachers Tom Wilbur and Catherine Carty-Wilbur started selling candy from a tiny second-floor space on Bow Street, in an effort to supplement their salaries and support their three kids.
In the Down East Reader’s Choice Poll, it has been named both Maine’s best chocolate and best candy shop.
From the beginning, their son Andy loved being a part of the business. By the time he was 8 he was bagging gummy bears on the sales floor. At age 11 he was manning the register.
“It was so nice to feel trusted, and valued, and part of the family business,” he recalls. The company quickly took off and Wilbur eventually added locations in Freeport and Brunswick. In the Down East Reader’s Choice Poll, it has been named both Maine’s best chocolate and best candy shop.
After teaching middle school science for a decade, Andy Wilbur rejoined the company in 2008, and took over ownership of the business in 2016.
He’s been growing Wilbur’s roster of confections, and fine-tuning existing recipes to improve flavor and textures, making as many as 20 different modifications to come up with a finished product. One of the top-selling new products is the Mud Puppy Meltaway, made with caramel, peanut butter, bits of homemade toffee, and of course chocolate. He has also been developing new formulations of customer favorites, like Maine Mud, a chocolate sauce with about twice as much chocolate as conventional hot fudge sauces, but without any high fructose corn syrup. Like a lot of Wilbur’s confections, it includes locally-sourced ingredients, such as Maine Sea Salt, vanilla made in Portland, and butter that’s been churned in Vermont.
All the tinkering lets Wilbur draw on his scientific background, and stoke his creative juices.“I like learning new things, and I find the challenge really rewarding,” he says.
The public can tour the Wilbur Chocolate factory in Freeport throughout the year, and Wilbur recently expanded its classroom space to host cooking, craft, and candy-making workshops.
Wilbur loves the close encounters with customers, who are coming in excited about getting a treat. After all, he says, they’re usually in a pretty good mood. “I love being a part of that.”