OCEAN CITY — Brightly colored candies and the smell of freshly made fudge fill the inside of Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy and Fudge, catching the attention of visitors strolling along the Boardwalk.
As these curious and hungry visitors walk through the open doors of the Ninth Street store, they find shelves stacked with a shore specialty — handcrafted saltwater taffy.
Venturing farther in, they can even sneak a peek at the taffy being pulled, cut and packaged behind a large glass window. The view reveals a portion of the decades-old process Shriver’s has perfected since it opened in 1898.
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“Kids just love this experience. They love to watch the machines run, as do the parents, and I think it’s really cool that it’s been here for so long because they come in with their grandparents and they watch it and their grandparents say to them, ‘I came here and I watched this happen,’” Shriver’s owner Meryl Vangelov said.
Vangelov, who is the great-granddaughter of the family who purchased the business from the Shriver family in 1959, and her husband, Blue, took over the business in 2010.
Now, Shriver’s has more than 70 flavors of salt water taffy that the Vangelovs create themselves, which includes a new flavor, Malibu Mimi, in honor of a former employee who died this month from lupus.
When it comes to the process of pulling taffy, Shriver’s no longer uses hooks, but instead uses machines that have become staples in the building after decades of use.
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“So the process for pulling is that we take the taffy off cold tables because the taffy is very hot. It cools for about five minutes, and we take it and put it on the puller. The puller actually aerates it and makes it stretchy,” Vangelov said. “Once it’s finished pulling, then we take it to the machines where it gets cut and wrapped.”
What visitors don’t see when they look through the glass, or rather who they don’t see, is Carmela Rosh.
Rosh, an 88-year-old Shriver’s employee, sits tucked back in a small corner of the building where she packages the chocolates that will head out to the front of the store.
Rosh, who was born and grew up in Ocean City, has worked at Shriver’s for 22 years. Growing up with Rosh working at the store, Vangelov lovingly refers to her as Aunt Carm.
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“This is the greatest place to work in the world, really and truly,” Rosh said. “I really love working here. I mean I’m in this little corner and the kids are talking and it’s just so pleasant. I mean I’m by myself, but yet I’m with everybody.”
As manager up until two years ago, Rosh worked at the front of the store, where she sold taffy to customers she grew to know well over the years.
“They are all very friendly, and I’ve met a lot of friends,” Rosh said. “Every year they’d come in and they’d look forward to coming in and I’d look forward to seeing them.”
Now that she’s working behind the scenes, Rosh is still just as dedicated to putting together the final product as she was to selling it.
“I look to see what needs to be done, I know what I have to do and I just do it,” Rosh said.
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As Rosh and Vangelov discuss the story about how salt water taffy earned its name, the two smile and laugh about the tale of Mr. Bradley’s taffy stand in Atlantic City and the flood that covered his taffy in salt water.
They reminisce about the times they’ve told the story to customers, and as they finish a short trip down memory lane, they share a short embrace in the small space where Rosh works each day.
Their bond offers a glimpse into what has made Shriver’s the oldest business in Ocean City. The job selling one of the shore’s most popular treats gets a little sweeter when it’s done as a family.
“I look forward to coming in,” Rosh about working at Shriver’s. “I just love being here.”