Life in Baltimore is a lot sweeter thanks to Louis & Esther Rheb
Louis J. Rheb, December 11, 1890 – July 19, 1960
Esther Braun Rheb, November 23, 1893 – October 19, 1980
Esther Rheb Harger, September 19, 1919 (m. Captain Edwin Harger, Jr.)
As an early 1900s candy jobber, Louis Rheb knew a lot about candy, but was said to be too nice of a guy to argue with customers who owed him money. A friend suggested that he set up business for himself and connected him with a neighbor who knew how to make candy.
Louis, his wife Esther and the neighbor, a Mr. Donner, worked together in the Rheb’s home basement at 3352 Wilkens Avenue to perfect the art of hand made truffles, jellies, caramels, clusters and creams.
Esther Rheb was already an entrepreneur. Prior to her marriage, she hand-made decorative loops for fine pajamas and other clothing made by local manufacturers. She put up $1500 for candy-making tools and equipment when the couple launched Rheb’s Candies from their home in 1917. More than 101 years later, Rheb’s Candies still thrives.
Her unpublished memoir still remains in the company office. In it, Esther recalled the early years of the business as a busy time. She worked at the Rheb stall at the Hollins Market as well as in the basement of the home as “chief dipper.” The Rhebs hired help to care for their children, Esther and Albert, in their home upstairs.
Through the years, the Rheb family has stayed true to their roots, though they expanded their hand made candy business into most every corner of 3352 Wilkens Avenue. To make space for more stock, they removed staircases. During busy holiday seasons, workers lift boxes of candy overhead into second floor storage spaces until they are ready for sale.
Rheb’s Candies survived through World War II and its sugar shortages by bartering with local merchants. The Rhebs have also operated stalls in the Bel Air & Lexington Markets. In 1950, they converted their garage into a retail space.
Both Louis and Esther’s children made the candy business their careers as well. Louis Rheb taught candymaking to his daughter Esther’s husband, Edwin Harger. For some years, Esther and Edwin operated Harger’s Candy, located on Fort Avenue.
After her husband’s death, Esther Harger returned to Rheb’s and worked most every day in the retail store until well into her 80s. Then, at day’s end, she often stayed on to pack candy. It is said that when she stopped working, her health went downhill. She passed away in April 2016.
The world has changed a lot in 101 years, though not so much at Rheb’s. The retail store is still located in Louis and Esther’s renovated garage, many of the same machines mix the chocolate and employees continue to work at a communal table and fashion candy with a signature swirl for each variety. Though Rheb’s operates year-round, the lines outside of the door at holiday time have become a traditional way for many families to get ready for the holidays.
Pat Harger, who married into the Rheb family, treasures the fact that Rheb’s is such a big part of Baltimore: “You can be here every holiday season and it still amazes you when people get in a long line to buy candy from this little place.”
Louis and Esther Rheb are buried in Loudon Park Cemetery along with their children.