Joe Marini III Shares Stories From the Beloved Boardwalk Candy Maker
Photos by Garrick Ramirez unless otherwise noted
This summer, Marini’s Candies celebrates its 100th year. The beloved candy maker has delighted swimsuit-clad kids and families with salt water taffy, homemade fudge, and candied apples since 1915. Over the years, Marini's has introduced new confectioneries -- chocolate-covered bacon, anyone? -- but the taffy is still wrapped using the same 1932 machine and the fudge is still hand mixed every morning under the watch of envious eyes. The memories and smiles haven’t changed either. Like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Marini’s transcends generations.
Marini Family, 1980. Pictured: Joe Jr., Joe Sr., and Joel Marini. Photo Courtesy Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Archives.
This sweet story began in 1915 with an Italian immigrant named Victor Marini who ran a barbershop at the beachfront Casa del Rey hotel. When a customer sold him a peanut and popcorn cart on the Boardwalk, Victor grew the business large enough to purchase the candy shop that became Marini’s at the Beach. Today, the shop is run by Victor’s great-great-grandson, Joe Marini III, who oversees Marini’s six locations at the Boardwalk.
Joe lived every child’s dream: growing up in a candy shop with the Boardwalk as his playground. “I live in Candyland,” he says today. He remembers spending time at the beach, playing video games and running around the Boardwalk which served as a virtual extension of his close-knit family's home. “We probably ate less candy than you would imagine,” he says. “Mom and dad would make us empty out our pockets every day before leaving the store.”
Let’s talk about that candy. Without question, Marini’s signature sweet is its salt water taffy. The gooey treat originated on the East Coast and Marini’s is thought to have been one of the first to bring it to California. Marini's uses the original recipe handed down by Joe's grandfather, packaging it on the same antique Model K taffy wrapper. “We held on to the traditions," Joe explains. "We make candies right in front of you and you can eat it fresh that very day. There’s no fun in making it in a warehouse somewhere.”
Classic Boardwalk treat - Cotton Candy
What’s the craziest flavor Marini’s has made? Joe volunteers that it's probably brussel sprout taffy, a tribute to the local crop shunned by kids everywhere. But here’s the real question: is the taffy really made with salt water? Joe likes to keep the process shrouded in mystery, but offers that some have speculated that at low tide, you can see an underwater pipe leading straight to Marini's. Not everything has stayed the same, of course. The store has seen a couple remodels over the years and the retro, beachbound woman on Marini’s label has evolved -- namely her swimsuit. This year, Marini’s is premiering a new covergirl, which Joe guesses is the fifth iteration.
Fresh Candy Apples
“I’m very fortunate to be part of a 100 year-old business and historic amusement park, ” he says reflecting on the candy shop's landmark anniversary. I asked him to share something he appreciated about his job. “I love to walk the Boardwalk at 6am when the production crew arrives," he says. "There's no pandemonium yet, only the sound of the waves lapping up onto the shore.” Joe hides one secret: he has yet to ride the Giant Dipper! How does someone who has been surrounded by candy their entire life celebrate when it's time for a treat? “I begin and end every season with a corn dog on the Boardwalk," the candy maker says.