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Ellicottville's Sweetest Indulgence

With over 100 treats to choose from, a trip to Watson's Chocolates is a must!

In 1985, Jim Watson rolled the dice. He was spending the majority of his time running a restaurant, while the minority went into making candy for his family’s Kenmore chocolate shop. While skiing with friends at a somewhat-known ski resort in a somewhat-known town south of Buffalo, the light bulb clicked. Without the production or financial means to open another chocolate shop in a bustling strip mall or population center, Watson’s gamble 32 years ago paid off …

Ellicottville’s Watson’s has become a name stay. 

“It just so happened that a friend of mine who owned some buildings had a vacant storefront,” he said. “In the mid-80s, there were a lot of empty storefronts. Ellicottville hadn’t yet reached the level of popularity it enjoys today. And I thought to myself - it’s far enough from Kenmore, where if I fail, nobody will know! (laughs) But it didn’t fail, and here we are 32 years later.” 

The Watson family has been making chocolates and candy for over 70 years. The business, now in the hands of a 3rd generation (Jim’s daughter, Whitney, is the president), has capitalized on the success of its famous sponge candy to gain worldwide acclaim and attention. And with 135 products to choose from in their catalogue, you’ll be hard pressed to find something that you won’t like. 

“When we opened the Ellicottville store, we had a single worker who would dip our chocolates,” Jim said. “And when I told her I wanted to open a second location, her initial reaction was “Are you crazy?” But we went for it, and our first Fall Festival was a massive success. But when everyone went home on Sunday night, the following week went pretty slowly. So we shut down and reopened on Thanksgiving, closing again on Easter. That process repeated itself for a few more years, until we had a girl working for us that we didn’t want to lay off. After that, we stayed open all year.” 

In the late 1980s when Ellicottville started gaining traction as a robust ski town, Watson bought a condo at the newly-built Wildflower complex. Watson would work in the restaurant during the day, help with production at night, then a few times a week would load up the car and bring the goods to Ellicottville. 

“When town really started to pop - I love telling people this - they would say, “Jim, how did you know Ellicottville would be such a bustling place? What a brilliant move!” And I would reply that I’m no genius, I was just in the right place at the right time.”

When the subject of sponge candy was brought up, Watson was quick to point out that despite what anybody says, Watson’s is not the inventor or originator of the famed candy. His dad learned it from a Buffalo candymaker, and Jim, in turn, learned it from his dad. 

“Nobody knows the origins - it’s one of those things that shrouded in history,” he said. “But we’ve got our formula where the ingredients are exactly the same as they were 70 years ago, and we’ve got our process that’s exactly the same as it was 70 years ago. We have never equivocated the quality with the margins, meaning we will not sacrifice the ingredients to make a few extra bucks.”

While Watson’s may not be the original creator of sponge candy, they are the ones who have perfected it. So much as to where three years ago, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown labeled September 21st as Sponge Candy Day.  

Featured on national networks like The Food Channel for sponge candy, people from all over the world call and order it. As a company, Watson’s has evolved to enable those same people to order directly from their website (as well as all of their other fine products.) Polly Perez, Watson’s Marketing Director, said that aspect has been huge.

“Whether they’re Buffalo expats, or someone who’s strolled through Ellicottville, or someone who saw something on TV, giving that person the ability to order our products is very important, because it allows us to reach demographics we may not necessarily be able to otherwise. And we recently committed to buying strictly Fair Trade Cocoa, which helps us contribute to fair working conditions around the world.”  

“Even though our Ellicottville store is firmly established, the next generation of Watson has taken a hold of it to ensure that the quality or service doesn’t change from what people have come to expect,” Watson said. “We are committed to the next 32 years as we have in the past.” 

Watson’s Chocolates, located at 27 Washington Street in Ellicottville, is open daily. Stop by and grab a box of sponge candy, chocolate, fudge (you’ll be delightfully amazed at some of the unique flavors!), or any of the other tasty treats they offer, or use your shopping power online at Connect on Facebook (Watson’s Chocolates), Twitter (@WatsonsChocolat) and Instagram (@watsonschocolates).