He bosses the two sweetest women in the world
They’re Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer . . . the biggest and busiest candy merchants of them all. Meet the man who’s run their lives for thirty-two years — while almost completely blind
John D. Hayes, a puckish, towering business patriarch who looks like a beardless Santa Claus and often acts like one, has a favorite quip about himself: “There are three women in my life,” he says: “Laura Secord, Fanny Farmer and Mullo.”
Laura Secord is the name of the 127-store candy company he heads in Canada: Fanny Farmer is a sister chain of 401 stores in the U. S. of which he’s chairman; and Mullo is his flesh-and-blood wife. At seventy-four he has a loving and lasting association with all three. Where most younger men would find running one chain of stores exhausting, Hayes personally supervises both Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer and carries on other business, club and charitable activities as virtually a citizen of two countries. He does it all as though it were fun, munching his own rich chocolates, chain-smoking cigars and, when he feels like it, downing glasses of Scotch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL ROCKETT
With his energy and shrewd business ability, both candy empires have reached new sales peaks each year. The familiar black-and-white Laura Secord shops are the Commonwealth’s largest retailer of candies and Fanny Farmer Limited is the world's largest. As vulnerable as they are to business recessions, inflation and war, neither has ever missed a dividend.
More remarkable than this is the fact that Hayes has run the two businesses for the past thirty-two years while almost totally blind. In 1925, when he was just beginning to get ahead
in the candy business, he turned to his secretary one day and said, “Miss Solon, the sunlight is blinding me. I’ll have to move my desk.” The same day he learned the truth from his doctor: a tooth extraction had hemorrhaged, destroying the optic nerve in one eye and seriously damaging the other. For the rest of his life he would get only the faintest glimmer of light.
“I had a wife and two young daughters to support and I didn’t know how I could go on,” he recalls, “but after a while I came to see that God would help me find a place.”
Today he says: “If I had my vision I wouldn’t get any more out of life.” Those who meet him find it hard to believe his brown eyes aren’t smiling from behind the shell-rim glasses he affects. He goes to baseball games just for the sound effects and plays erratic bridge with the cards close to his nose. “Occasionally I throw down a jack instead of a king,” he admits.
But his performance in the candy business proved clearsighted enough to place him in command of both companies in 1938, when Senator Frank O’Connor, his brother-in-law and the founder of Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer, retired. O’Connor died a year later. Since Hayes took over, the firms’ sales volume has trebled. In 1938 Laura Secord’s eighty-six shops poured $1,745,000 in candy across their counters; last year the flood from 127 stores reached five million dollars in confections. They ranged from kiddy-pops at two cents to five-pound boxes of mixed chocolates,
nuts and mints at $6.25 and included such luscious items as crunchy nut Renfrews, chocolatecovered pecans and almond mixture, fudge, jellies, boxes of mint wafers and jars of honey, marmalade and jam.
Almost all Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer shops look alike, but their companies attempt to make each one seem like a little old-fashioned shop on its own with ruffled curtains, chatty salespeople and a kitchen-like atmosphere. The result is so successful that customers often think the chocolates are made in the back of the shop. They’re not; Laura Secord shops from Winnipeg to Quebec City get them fresh from Toronto or Montreal every day. Any left over after eight days go back to the factories which Hayes, with artistic piquancy, insists on calling “studios.”
This hominess, freshness and the high standards for ingredients were inspired by the founder of the two firms, Frank O’Connor, and it made him a multi-millionaire. O’Connor, a native of Desoronto, had moved to Toronto with his wife from Peterborough in 1910. Soon after, Jack Hayes arrived from Belleville and became a neighbor of the O’Connors in the same apartment building. Hayes, the son of a Belleville police sergeant, was a post-office clerk and then went into the lumber business on his own for awhile; O’Connor worked for the Imperial Tobacco Company.
O’Connor was a nut about candy. Whenever he’d see a different kind, he’d buy it, taste it and analyze it. His apartment continued on page 63
He bosses the two sweetest women continued from page 2Í
Every holiday brings jitters: if it rains who wants candy?
was crowded with boxes of candy from Denmark, England, Turkey—from wherever candy was exported to Canada. He also collected candy recipes. It wasn’t long before he began to make candy, then to sell it.
jobs. Often he has personally paid an employee’s hospital bill or helped finance a home for a worker he felt was deserving. His ideas on business ethics have the ring of old platitudes, but in Hayes’ case they’ve become more than lip service
as he acts on them constantly. “It’s my experience.” he says, “that you can conduct a business based on equality, integrity and respect and be successful.” Hayes tries to base his whole business on a personal relationship between man-
agement and workers. Supervisors visit each store in Canada and the U. S. once a day to check on supplies, but otherwise the individual store managers do their own banking, bookkeeping and look after their own inventories, without question.
Such an honor system has worked well, Hayes says, but he admits it isn’t foolproof. Once when a large sum of cash was missing from a store he personally called in the two salesgirls and a handyman who worked there. One of them was probably responsible, he suggested.
The O’Connors opened their first shop in September 1913, at a time when Canadians were celebrating the centenary of Laura Secord's famous journey from Queenston through enemy lines to Beaver Dams, to warn a British outpost of an American attack in the war of 1812. A patriotic and sentimental friend of O’Connor’s wife suggested the name Laura Secord for the Toronto shop.
The name Laura Secord and the candy quickly caught Toronto’s fancy, and after six years O’Connor and Hayes, who had become bookkeeper, then a company director, decided to enter the United States market. This was reversing a trend, for American businessmen after the First World War were beginning to crowd into Canada.
The Canadians felt that what had worked in Canada would work as well in the U. S. They named their first shop in Rochester, N.Y., after a famous American woman, Fanny Farmer, who had been head of a Boston cooking school and whose cook book was a best-seller across the U. S. (The name Laura. Secord was no favorite in those parts.) Rapidly they opened other stores through the eastern and north-central states, until the American chain far outgrew the Canadian Laura Secord. (There are seven hundred employees at Laura Secord, more than two thousand at Fanny Farmer.)
Since 1938. when O’Connor sold the last of his shares on the Toronto stock market, just a year before his death, the energetic Hayes has been the boss of two of the world’s largest candy businesses and, coincidentally, one of the most precarious businesses in the world. For there are few things more uncertain than selling candy.
Executives of Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer, including Hayes, for example, get more and more jittery as Christmas approaches. It’s their big season, and a miscalculation in one week can throw the whole year’s balance sheet out of kilter. Hayes’ big lantern jaw takes on a firm set and his furry eyebrows tighten as he listens to weather forecasts. If it’s a bright day, people buy candy; if it rains or snows, they’re lukewarm about buying. Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and other festivals on which candy markets rely to boost sales are similarly nerve-wracking.
But Hayes doesn't sit beside a telephone and bite his fingernails waiting for the good or bad news. He is constantly on the go across Canada and the U. S. On a recent trip, accompanied by Mrs. Hayes, a short dark-haired woman with energy and good humor to match her husband’s, he headed for Winnipeg. There he visited two stores on the main street, Portage Avenue, attended a party for staff and left the same night for Minneapolis. He repeated the schedule there, visiting stores and greeting staff at another party. Then he swung back east through Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Windsor and London, with inspections, receptions and parties at every stop.
He visited ailing employees in hospital and gossiped with oldtimers at their
One would suspect the other and their personal relations would become unbearable. Next day the handyman came to Hayes’ office with the stolen money. He continued to work with the company until he retired. In another case a salesgirl was discovered peddling dope after hours. Hayes was not so forgiving— he fired her.
While Hayes’ indefatigable business regimen and happy-family ways have helped build the business, it’s the candy that pulls in the customers. The two factories in Toronto and Montreal that supply Laura Secord last year produced four and a quarter million pounds of candy of 119 varieties. Hayes and his cooks in Canada permit no substitutes. In a year they use seventy-five tons of first-grade creamery butter bought in onepound packages. Fresh lemons, oranges, pineapples, cherries and other fruits provide the flavor for centres and twentyfour-percent cream gives the filling its richness.
Whipping up huge quantities of “oldfashioned, home-made” candies requires more than a 19th-century maid stirring batter in a mixing bowl. At the fourstory Laura Secord factory in Toronto, as in all ten factories of the two companies, mass-production machinery is used.
Candymaker Harry Goldman mixes a hundred-pound batch of candy in big steam vats in five minutes. When he started work for Laura Secord in 1916 it took an hour over a gas flame. One of his machines mixes 250 pounds of marshmallow at a time, another thrusts cooked candy into small starch molds, row' by row, automatically. He once squeezed it by hand through a funnel, one candy at a time.
Nearby a machine roasts bushels of nuts while another cooks them in coconut butter. The nuts arrive in bulging sacks from Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Texas, Italy and the Middle East; walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pecans, almonds and pignolias.
In the third-floor “chocolate room,” filled with delicious mint aroma, three big vats bubble with three varieties of chocolate—bitter sweet, vanilla and milk —and a fourth with mint. Nearby a conveyer belt carries centres over a screen of chocolate to coat them on the bottom, then under a chocolate waterfall, called an “enrober,” to coat the sides and top.
But some of the operations still smack of early days. In the bon-bon room, white-haired May McNamara and her sister Frances sit at a counter dipping softcream centres into steaming copper kettles exactly as they did thirty-five years ago. To produce chocolates with cherry centres they dip the cherries in a creamy fruit-juice mixture, then hand-dip them swiftly into hot chocolate. Acid from the fresh cherry turns the creamy mix into a cordial that trickles out on the candy eater’s tongue.
The chocolates, bon-bons, caramels and wafers are still put into boxes by hand. Two rows of girls place them into the boxes as they move along a conveyor belt. By this time they’ve been given some personality. Laurette. a high favorite, is a chocolate-coated butter cream. Dundee is a cocoanut cream and Gloria a butter cream with assorted nutmeats. Southern is a milk-chocolate-coated candy w'ith a toasted cocoanut centre; Goldie is a creamy caramel and Duchess a chocolate-nut caramel.
Another old-fashioned touch that hasn't changed is the visit of the boss to chat with employees about their problems. The factory workers are often startled to see Jack Hayes walk quickly, without assistance, between the machines
and candy-laden tables that he can’t see. Many employees have known him most of their adult lives as they started with Laura Secord within a few years of its founding. Candymaker Roy Warren started on opening day. Going into the store for his mother, he was hired by Frank O’Connor for a dollar a week and “all the candy he could eat.” Fifteenyear-old Roy was sick for a week, then got busy delivering chocolates on his bicycle.
The first “factory” was an apartment above the store. Candymaker Louis Coombs and Jack Hayes' brother Jim mixed candy on a big marble slab in the living room, one man at each end with a spade, working a fifty-pound batch at a time. They cooked and cooled the candy in the kitchen. Hayes and O'Connor did their bookkeeping on the kitchen table. Sugar was four cents a pound, butter fifteen cents, chocolate nine cents and a gallon of the best cream cost seventyfive cents.
Jim Hayes molded the centres in the pantry, then they were shipped down to the basement where Rose Pardee dipped them in chocolate. A fan, blowing air down a crude pipe, cooled the chocolate. When Miss Pardee wasn't busy dipping she nipped upstairs to help Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor and saleslady Dollie McGowan sell candy.
“It wasn’t long before chauffeur-driven cars from Toronto’s best homes were pulling up in front of the store for chocolates,” Roy Warren recalls.
“Pray for my venture”
An incident occurred the first day of business that to O’Connor, a devout Catholic, seemed a miraculous omen. Two nuns of the Sisters of the Precious Blood called in for alms.
“I gave them what I could,” O’Connor later related, “and asked them to pray for my venture. They did and my business began to prosper.” The sisters' chance visit later was worth much more to their order. O’Connor contributed heavily to it during his lifetime and left the sisters $200,000 in his will.
O’Connor, with Hayes’ help, soon opened a second store in downtown Toronto and the day before Christmas, 1914, the stores sold ten tons of candy worth $10,000. Employees worked all night to make the candy, then sat down to a turkey breakfast. A third shop was opened in Hamilton the following year; others followed in Montreal, Hamilton and Ottawa.
The first factory went into operation in 1916 on Toronto’s Princess Street, but within a year a new one was built on Bathurst Street. O’Connor insisted on calling it a “studio,” which raised a laugh among his employees, but the name stuck and today no one ever calls it anything but studio. The first Montreal “studio” was opened in 1917. Quebeckers now eat half of all the candy Laura Secord makes.
Profits from Laura Secord and Fanny Farmer chains pyramided through the Twenties and Thirties, making O’Connor rich and influential. He became a close friend of Premier Mitchell Hepburn and some newspapers called him the man who really ran Ontario. In 1935 Prime Minister King appointed him to the Senate. After that he found time to build up prize-winning herds on his three-milliondollar Maryvale estate on the outskirts of Toronto.
O'Connor had one business frustration. All his life he wanted to add ice cream to Laura Secord products. Hayes and others opposed him. On one trip to the U. S., O'Connor got brooding about it.
grabbed the telephone and told the Toronto office to “get that ice cream in the store before I get back, or else!” When he returned and found no ice cream, O’Connor gave up.
In mid-Depression when the candy business was tottering, Hayes went against O’Connor’s wishes again by cutting the price of chocolates from eighty cents a pound to sixty cents, or two pounds for a dollar. Sales went up immediately and production costs were reduced.
When O’Connor died in 1939, his can-
dy had sold so well he left an estate worth six and a half millions. In addition, he had given an estimated three million to charity, chiefly to Catholic institutions.
When O’Connor abdicated Hayes was left in charge of both candy companies. For seventeen years he commuted between Rochester, N.Y., and Toronto, spending half his time with Fanny Farmer and the other half with Laura Secord. “I led a double life with those two women,” he says. His chauffeur drove him on the 200-mile round trip from one ren-
dezvous to the other, often with his wife along to read him financial reports, newspapers, travel books and biographies.
At one time, just before the Second World War, Hayes thought of opening a chain of candy shops in England. With his daughter Mary, who was then his secretary, he went there to look at possibilities, but could not work up any enthusiasm about doing business overseas. It was a fortunate decision, for war brought the precarious candy business face to face with another crisis; sugar was hard to get. Laura Secord sold only
half-pound boxes to the public, restricting pound and two-pound boxes to shipments overseas.
While O’Connor and Hayes built their business on the names of two historically famous women, Hayes has not been content to stay entirely old-fashioned. The austere, bonneted Laura Secord who appeared on shops and candy boxes two years ago has been replaced by a younger-looking, sweet-faced girl who, if not glamorous, certainly has more oomph. Plain, black-and-white boxes now appear in colors, and store interiors are being re-decorated in blues, browns and grays.
“I realized the world was changing,” says Hayes wistfully. “Once all the Fords were black too.”
The change in Laura’s appearance revived old rumors about the original picture. For years in Ontario a story had circulated that the Laura Secord on the candy shops wasn’t Laura Secord at all, but Sir George Ross, Liberal premier of Ontario from 1899 to 1905. The artist commissioned to paint the picture had not satisfied government critics, the story went, so he simply put a bonnet on it and sold it to the candy company.
Untrue, says Hayes, although he admits the joke did the company no harm. Laura’s likeness was taken from an old woodcut.
Laura Secord has gone modern in other ways. The company put a curvaceous line of long-limbed, high-stepping majorettes in last year’s Grey Cup parade and passed out “cheese-cake” (bare leg) pictures to the press. Such publicity would have been unthinkable for Laura a few years ago, says Frank Chamberlain, the company’s public-relations man. Most of its promotion efforts are of the homey sort. This Easter it set up as a goodwill project an Easter-egg treasure hunt for children in twenty cities across Canada, conducted by the YMCA and YWCA. Hundreds of chocolate eggs were given to the children finding the largest number of metal tokens hidden in parks.
Hayes himself continues to look at most of life with good humor and to keep active. The first sign of any let-up in his pace came two years ago when a slight heart attack put him on a hospital cot for a day. Hayes turned the presidency of Fanny Farmer over to Frank Burke, a Toronto man whom he had brought up through the business, but remained as board chairman and as boss of Laura Secord. He visits Rochester now once a month.
Despite his doctor’s warnings, he also finds the energy to serve as a co-chairman of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, as a director of Toronto’s Chartered Trust Company and as a member of half a dozen clubs. And he still frolics once a year, as he has for the past fifteen years, with 250 boys of a Toronto Kiwanis junior club at the “Jack Hayes picnic,” a frolic he delights in. Dressed in old trousers, open shirt and a clown s hat, he runs about like one of the gang, handing out ice cream, pop, prizes and Laura Secord candies.
“Sometimes I bump into a few boys.” he says, “and they find out I can’t see.”
Whenever there’s time to spare he likes to poke about the two acres of gardens and trees at his suburban Toronto home and to take a dip in the swimming pool when the weather's good. For the past few years his wife has managed to steer him to Florida for a holiday in the winter.
Even there, however, he is frequently summoned to the phone to listen to the problems of the other two women in his life, who, sweet as they are, can also, he admits, become frightful shrews. ★