Washington’s iconic Aplets and Cotlets candy factory to shut down later this year
Love ’em or hate ’em, Aplets & Cotlets, a strongly flavored variation on a fruit candy known as “Turkish Delight,” have been a Northwest fixture for decades. But now, they’re going away forever.
“We had decided several years ago that we wanted to try to sell the business, and we’ve worked at that, and we’ve had some interest, and we’ve come close a couple of times, but we haven’t been able to put the deal together,” Greg Taylor, president of Liberty Orchards, the company that makes the candy, told KIRO Radio on Wednesday morning.
“And so we’ve decided it’s time to move on,” he added.
The powdered-sugar covered chewy candies are made in a small factory in Cashmere, Washington, in Chelan County, west of Wenatchee along Highway 2. Liberty Orchards was founded at least 101 years ago – nobody’s exactly sure – by Greg Taylor’s grandfather and uncle.
Liberty Orchards is privately held and doesn’t release sales figures, but Greg Taylor says the company is on the smaller side, compared with other candy manufacturers, in a category he describes as “less than $25 million a year in sales.” It’s unclear what the sale price of the company would be.
Taylor, who is 72 years old, has been the president of Liberty Orchards for 43 years. He says that the decision to close was not directly related to COVID, but the pandemic did contribute to a more difficult economic environment. A bigger factor, Taylor says, was that there wasn’t interest among younger family members in continuing to operate Liberty Orchards.
“I certainly don’t want to put this on the next generation, but for the fourth generation of family, they’re not here. They didn’t grow up in Cashmere. They didn’t grow up in the business,” Taylor said. “They’re in midlife for the most part. They have lives of their own, they have jobs, and careers, and families, and they like where they live.”
“So there’s just, you know, no one in the family that’s ready to take my place,” Taylor said.
“The whole thing is emotional at this point,” Taylor continued. “But I’m happy that the fourth generation has found other things to do.”
Staff levels vary throughout the production year, but Taylor says Liberty Orchards employs the equivalent of about 55 full-time employees. Many have been on the job for decades.
Greg Taylor says the target date for shutting down operations in Cashmere is June 1, 2021. At that time, the company-owned factory and retail store would be put on the real estate market. However, if a buyer for the business were to step forward before then – as late as May 31, Taylor says – the shutdown could be avoided.
One option Taylor has reluctantly explored is licensing the brand name and recipe to a manufacturer to make Aplets & Cotlets, and the company’s other similar products, somewhere other than Cashmere.
“We’ve focused on finding a buyer who would stay in Cashmere,” Taylor said. “We love Cashmere and we think it’s a great place to do business, but, you know, it’s not for everybody, corporately [speaking].”
Mayor Jim Fletcher of Cashmere told KIRO Radio on Wednesday morning that the news came as a surprise.
“There’s always a degree of sadness hearing that a longtime business — any business – closes, but this one is particularly cherished because it’s part of the town’s identity,” Mayor Fletcher said. “I mean, when you mention Cashmere, that’s one of the first things people, at least my generation, people go, ‘Yeah, Liberty Orchards. We used to stop there as kids when we were traveling through to Wenatchee.’”
The closure of Liberty Orchards will likely come up during next week’s Cashmere City Council meeting, Mayor Fletcher said. He’s confident that, should the factory ultimately close, the city’s Economic Development Council, as well as the local Port Authority, will likely work to help identify potential new uses and possible tenants for the Liberty Orchard space.
Loss of those jobs and that iconic employer, Fletcher says, is “something that we’re just going to deal with.”
As for the two streets in Cashmere named for Liberty Orchard’s most famous products – Aplets Way and Cotlets Way – the mayor says those names are likely here to stay, at least for the near term.
If those street names were ever to be reconsidered, Mayor Fletcher says, “we would probably wait until such time that there was public participation in whether or not they should be changed, and that may be years from now.”
With Liberty Orchards so close to shutting down for good, Greg Taylor is looking forward to retirement. But he also clearly has mixed emotions about the operations coming to an end.
“There’s a fair amount of melancholy,” Taylor said. “On the one hand, I’m disappointed that the business won’t be continuing. [But] the feeling of our whole family is that we’re just very proud of 100, or 101, or 102-year history of our company. We’ve employed thousands of people and we made millions of people happy. We’re proud to be part of the founding family of this company, and the example my grandfather and uncle set for how to do business.”
“That’s our main thought,” Taylor said, “and our other thought is how much appreciation we feel to our employees and to our community and to our customers.”
Social media reactions Wednesday morning about the factory closure seem to indicate that some Northwesterners love Aplets & Cotlets, while others scratch their heads and don’t quite understand the somewhat perfume-y tasting candy’s appeal.
But, for those who do love the candies – or who are maybe thinking ahead to the holiday season and family members who love the candies – and who want to stock up now while supplies remain and while the factory is in operation during the next few months, Taylor says that Aplets & Cotlets do have a decent shelf-life.
“If they left it at room temperature [still sealed in its original packaging], it would be good for a few months,” Taylor said. “Five, six months depending upon the storage conditions. If they left it in a cool dark place, [it’d last] a little longer, eight, nine months. But if they put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in a freezer, it’d last almost indefinitely. I mean, we say you can freeze it for up to a year, and it would be practically good as new when it comes out of freezing.”
Does Taylor expect a shelf-clearing run on the remaining Aplets & Cotlets inventory at the countless retailers in the Northwest and around the United States that carry the candy?
“I hoping for it,” Taylor said, chuckling. “It’d be nice to end on a winning note.”
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.