Some people make their living doing unusual jobs. Others do ordinary work with particular skill and dedication. Still others offer their talents as true amateurs, because they love what they do.
They all do good work. And we’d like to showcase their efforts here. Check back for the newest essay in the Good Work series.
It is 7:00 on a Friday morning and Cary Selsback is making candy. In the small kitchen in the back of Aida Opera Candies on Burlingame Avenue, he fires up the gas stove and pours sugar into the same copper kettle his great-grandfather used. Cary is the fourth generation in his family to do this work. The recipe is in his head, and it’s the one Anthony Basques used to make peanut brittle when he opened his first candy store on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco in 1928.
Cary makes all the store specialties: peanut brittle, honeycomb, marshmallow, and—his own creation—Super Berry Bark. When you make small batches, the candy is always fresh. Cary learned to make candy from his grandfather, Tony Basques, who learned from his father, Anthony Basques, Sr. It feels good to know he’s doing things the same way his great-grandfather did. Cary is proud of that tradition, but he doesn’t take much credit for the success of the store. “To be honest,” he says, “making candy is the easy part.” There is so much that makes this store special. “You should talk to my Mom.”
Lorri Dawson has been busy in the front of the shop. Valentine’s Day is approaching and she is placing molded chocolate “Keys to My Heart” in individual cellophane bags and tying each with a ribbon. The shop is known for its beautiful shapes of chocolate, and many of them are made with Grandpa Tony’s antique German molds. Lorri is the creative heart of the store. Everything is presented with care, from the window displays to the tiny bag of chocolates that Cary takes with him when he leaves for the morning. Lorri loves the challenge of coming up with the perfect treat for a special occasion, and people come to her for wedding favors and gifts of all kinds. It is her customers that mean the most to Lorri. She knows the regulars’ names, their candy preferences, and often what is going on in their lives. That’s the kind of candy store she remembers helping out in when she was a child. It is that history that makes the shop special to Lorri. “You really should talk to my Dad.”
Tony Basques answers Lorri’s call and comes in to visit with me. Tony is 82 and retired from the shop and candy-making, but such an important part of the story. He and his wife Clara brought the shop to Burlingame Avenue in 1986, after Anthony, Sr., passed away. Tony was a teacher, counselor, and coach at Mills High School, and made candy nights and weekends, while his wife and children ran the store. But it’s his father’s story he wants to tell.
“Grandpa Tony,” as he is known in the family, was born in Spain and came to San Francisco as a young boy. He learned to play the trumpet and make candy, and both pursuits helped him make a living through the Depression. His first love was music; hence the name of the store. He made candy by day and played in swing dance bands by night. There are photos on display of a dashing young Tony with his band mates. His trumpet is tucked on a shelf. After WWII, he opened Aida Opera Candies on Mission Street in San Francisco’s Excelsior district. That is the shop Tony and Lorri remember with such fondness.
Lorri Dawson owns the shop now. Even if her customers don’t notice the pictures or the trumpet, you can tell she’s glad they are there. She smiles her quiet smile. “This is a good place to be. People who come to a candy store are happy—and if they aren’t when they come in, they leave happy.”
You can find out more about Aida Opera Candies in Burlingame, California, here.