The minute Pam Teich walked into the office, she had a feeling something was wrong. When she saw the candy boxes on her desk, she knew the situation was worse than she’d imagined. The boxes had the incorrect design.
They would have to be redone, and the deadline for shipping candy to one of Austin-based Lammes Candies’ best customers was the end of the week. It was one of those days, Teich says with a laugh, when she thought it might be more fun doing anything besides helping run her family’s 134-year-old business.
“But you know what?” she says. “When you stop and think about it, it’s just another surprise to throw you off your game. After a while, you take a deep breath and figure out what you need to do. We’ve been doing this for so long, there are very few things that creep up on you that you can’t handle.”
Lammes, most famous for its Texas Chewie Pecan Pralines, has been making candy of one kind or another since long before cars traveled Congress Avenue. Teich, brother Bryan David Teich and sister Lana Schmidt are the fifth generation of Lammes to run the family-owned business—a rare feat.
“The one time we didn’t order Lammes, everyone was asking us, ‘Where’s my candy?’ ” says Charlotte Plumlee, whose Austin-area oilfield services company, Texas Hot Oilers, sends 450 boxes of pralines to customers and employees every Christmas. “It’s a great product, and the people I deal with are very nice.”
Mention Lammes to Texans of a certain age and their reaction is usually the same: That’s the pecan praline candy company, right? But Lammes was in business for almost 50 years before it focused on the pralines. Its beginnings in 1878 were more ice cream parlor than candy factory, and its best-selling products until World War II were ice cream and a sherbet-like product called gem. Ninety-year-old Mildred Walston, who still works at Lammes, started in 1940, dipping ice cream while in high school.
That is not to say the pralines haven’t been important. David Lamme Sr., who took over the business from his father, William Wirt Lamme, in 1885 (family lore has it that William lost the company in a poker game and David made good the debt), finalized the recipe seven years later, and it remains the same today: Texas pecans, corn syrup, sugar, butter and salt.
At first the candies were sold only by special order—and only when Lammes had enough orders to produce 25 pounds. That changed in the 1920s, when the pralines became so popular that the company started its mail-order division specifically to sell them.
Today, Lammes sells a half-million tons of candy per year, split half and half between its five Austin-area retail stores and the mail-order and wholesale business. The praline, not surprisingly, remains the most popular item, followed by the Longhorn, made with caramel and pecans in chocolate.
Customers have sent Lammes pralines to locations as distant as Malaysia and Iceland, and one customer used to send a box to the queen of England every year.
Walston, who works full-time answering the phone, is not Lammes’ only longtime employee. About half of the 70 have been there at least 15 years. “It’s a family thing,” Walston says. “They’re sincere and sold on the product; I just love the family and business. I love it so much that sometimes I act like it’s mine.”
That might well be the reason for its enduring success. “When a company lasts five generations, it’s all about the strength of the family,” says Chip Besio, the director of the Center for Marketing Management Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Typically, family-owned businesses don’t last much past the third generation because the next generation isn’t always willing and ready to do what the previous generations did to get the company to that point.”
Teich and her siblings understand that. “We’re all in this together,” she says. Teich handles sales and marketing; Bryan D. Teich oversees the financial and operations parts of the business; and Lana Schmidt runs the retail stores. “The people I work with are the reason I work here. There is a comfort and a security in those bonds.”
Besides, she adds with a smile, “We’re not selling widgets, we’re selling candy. We should be having a good time.”
Jeff Siegel is a Dallas writer.