A production associate with Haven’s Candies in Westbrook, packages chocolate peanut butter cups to sell. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

The first thing that hits you when you walk into the Westbrook location of Haven’s Candies is the intense smell. And it isn’t just one smell, either — it’s an olfactory swirl of sugar, butter, salt and the richness of roasted nuts met with deep, earthy notes of melted chocolate.

The second thing you notice is the bustle. This is the small company’s factory store, after all, where everything gets mixed, molded, dipped and painted by hand. That’s how it’s been done since the company launched in 1915 (it’s the oldest chocolatier in Maine) by Herbert Haven.

The son of confectioners in Boston, Haven moved to Portland to be with his wife, and they started creating candies in their kitchen, selling them out of the parlor of their house on Forest Avenue. Fast-forward to 2001, when the company was bought by Andy Charles, who brought annual sales to $2 million by 2014 and opened two retail-only locations in Scarborough and Portland, while also expanding Haven’s wholesale and corporate gifts arenas.

Chocolate-covered blueberries packaged just like fresh produce. Photo courtesy of Haven’s Candies

Today the company is owned by Ellsworth native Erin Collins, who purchased it from Charles in 2014. It employs 28 people at its Westbrook factory. Everything is still made by hand using traditional methods, much of it reflecting the treasures of Maine, from pints of chocolate-covered blueberries (cleverly packaged like fresh produce from the grocery store) and gummy lobsters to hand-painted chocolate tableaus of lighthouse scenes, swimming loons and lobster traps.

And while Haven’s makes all kinds of candy, caramel popcorn and peanut brittle among the standouts, it’s really about the chocolate. Truffles come in flavors like Irish cream, cappuccino, caramel pecan, mint, and dark and white chocolates. There are the bear paws – Haven’s version of turtles – with almonds, cashews, and pecans, each topped with hand-funneled chewy caramel and a layer of milk or dark chocolate. And there’s a spate of fudges that range from peanut butter and penuche to maple pecan.

Paying a visit to the Westbrook location means you can, of course, buy and eat any of the above. But if you call ahead and book a tour, you can also witness the creation of all of it. Factory tours are $2.50 per person, with a $25 minimum total; visitors under 8 are given a window tour for safety reasons. Tours are available Monday through Thursday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., though they generally don’t run during December, as it’s all hands on deck for the chocolatiers to fill every holiday order possible.

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who recently moved to Maine.

A row of chocolate Santa Clauses fresh out of the molds is lined up at Haven’s Candies in Westbrook. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Comments are no longer available on this story