Almond Roca celebrates tasty centennial with new replica neon sign

Oct 6, 2023, 8:33 AM | Updated: 11:21 am

Almond Roca, that buttery, crunchy, chocolate-covered, almond-dusted and world-famous candy from Tacoma, is celebrating its 100th birthday next week with the debut of a new neon sign.

The centennial of the tasty foil-wrapped Northwest icon, which was originally created by Tacoma candymaker Brown & Haley back in 1923, will be commemorated at a big public party Tuesday at 10 a.m. outside the Brown & Haley factory on 26th Street in Tacoma, not far from the Tacoma Dome. The highlight of the event will be the official first lighting of the new sign.

Many local residents know that on the exterior wall of the factory along 26th Street, there’s been a neon Almond Roca sign and clock on display for close to 80 years. The old sign measured about nine feet wide and nine feet tall and featured deco “ALMOND ROCA” neon letters on a distinctive pink background.

That sign was well-maintained by Brown & Haley and was regularly overhauled every 20 years or so. But a few months ago, as National Sign Company prepared for another overhaul in honor of the centennial, they discovered it made more sense to create a brand-new replica rather than, essentially, completely rebuild the original sign.

Kathi Rennaker is director of marketing for Brown & Haley and serves as the company’s unofficial historian.

On Thursday afternoon, Rennaker revealed a big secret: the new sign, which won’t be officially dedicated and then lighted for the first time until Tuesday, is already on display, where the old sign hung for decades. A crew completed installation earlier Thursday, and Rennaker says there’s not an easy way to cover it up or wrap it to keep it hidden in the days leading up to the event.

When KIRO Newsradio spoke with Rennaker, she was standing on the sidewalk and looking up at the shiny new sign.

Can she tell the difference between the new one and the old one?

“No,” Rennaker said. “And, in fact, when it pulled up in front of our building, several people said, ‘Is that the new one, or is that the old one?’ So yeah, it’s an exact replica using those exact techniques that were used to create the original one.”

The old sign is back from the neon shop, too, and is now being stored temporarily in the Brown & Haley warehouse. Rennaker says they will take the next few months to determine which museum it will eventually go to.

In describing the effort to create the new sign, Rennaker took pains to point out that it’s an exact replica of the original design, original painted finish and includes, thankfully, genuine neon tubes.

However, with the end of daylight saving time about a month away, Rennaker did acknowledge that part of the new Almond Roca sign and clock is not quite exactly like the original.

“The only difference is that now, to set the clock, we don’t have to turn off the circuit breaker and wait for 12 hours,” Rennaker said. “We have a way to set the time correctly.”

Rennaker explains that with the old sign, every autumn, they’d have to flip the breaker to turn off power to the sign and clock and then wait an hour before they turned it back on again for the clock to read the correct time. And then, every spring, it was a bit more complicated: they had to turn it off and wait 11 hours (or 23 hours) to turn it back on again for the clock to correctly read one hour ahead.

If longtime local newspaper columnist Mike Mailway were still around, he might suggest turning to the fellow next to you at the lunch counter to tell him:

  • Brown & Haley makes 3 million pieces of Almond Roca each day
  • Almond Roca is sold in 60 countries
  • Individual pieces are wrapped in 3-inch wide foil strips; Brown & Haley uses 18,000 miles of that foil every year.

If you go …

The big party is Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 10:00 a.m. at Brown & Haley in the Dome District of Tacoma; the lighting of the sign will take place between 11:15 and 11:30 a.m. And, yes, there will be free samples.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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