Sugar on Top
A candied conversation with Tommy Washington, sweets maker at Dinstuhl's for more than 50 years.
photograph by hannah sayle
In his 50 years making candy for Dinstuhl’s Fine Candy Company, Inc., Tommy Washington, 77, has worked under four generations of the Dinstuhl family and has moved with the candy company from its original downtown location to its Laurelwood location to its current location on Pleasant View Road in Bartlett. We sat down to find out more about this devoted Dinstuhl’s candy man and how this city — and its sweet tooth — has changed over the last half-century.
MBQ: Were you born in Memphis?
Tommy Washington: I was born and raised in Walls, Mississippi, just a little south of Memphis. I came here in 1956 looking for a job. I worked at Bry’s Department Store on Jefferson and Main. They hired me as a porter. I worked as a porter for two weeks when Mr. E.B. Smith, who was over the candy department, asked me if I’d like to work with him there.
So you took him up on it?
He told me if I learned to make candy, I’d never have to look for a job. So that’s what I did.
What kind of candy did you make?
We made all kinds of brittles and creams and fudges. All the stuff like we make here. I used to dream about candy all the time, especially when I was learning to make it.
And when did you come to Dinstuhl’s?
In 1962. When I was at Bry’s, Mr. Gene [Dinstuhl] would come up to the candy counter, because if they ran out of something at Dinstuhl’s, they’d borrow from us and we’d borrow from them. I got to know Mr. Gene.
When Bry’s went out of business, Mr. Gene asked if I’d like to come work for him. That was in April. They hired me in September.
Why did they wait so long to hire you?
Summer is always a slow month for candy. People like drinks and ice cream during the summer. They like chocolates and things more in the winter. So they waited until September to bring me on.
What was Memphis like back then?
Downtown was pretty good. It was busy. There were all the parades and stuff, and you had Goldsmith’s and Lowenstein’s and Gerber’s — all on Main Street.
Were there any candies you made back then you don’t make anymore?
At Bry’s we used to make stick candy, and you don’t see that anymore. Here we made pinwheels, caramel with a divinity center rolled and cut into pinwheels. We don’t make those anymore. It’s changed a little bit, but not much. We stick with the basics here. Only Dinstuhl’s makes cashew crunch.
What’s your favorite candy to make or to eat or both?
I like turtles and cashew crunch. I like making the creams. We make it into these little balls and then run them down the line where they get covered in chocolate. But I make just about everything.
Do you ever think about retiring?
Everybody around me who’s retired is always looking for something to do. I’ll stay here as long as they need me. It’s nice to work around people who appreciate you.