DEL MAR — Candles from the Candle Factory were used for special occasions at the White House beginning in the Truman Administration. The tradition continued until the Clinton Administration when a popular mail order catalog offered them for sale, saying they were the same candles used in the White House. Because the White House cannot be used for such commercial purposes, it canceled its orders.
Still, to have such a hidden jewel in the area, many find to be a pleasant surprise.
“People tell me they have been driving by for 30 years and never stopped in,” said owner Steve Knorr.
When they finally do, they find a charming, aromatic shop filled to the brim with candles and candle accessories.
Knorr, 66, is a third-generation candle maker, whose home and business is tucked into a little forest glen on Via De La Valle in Del Mar.
His Polish immigrant grandfather, Ferdinand, founded the business. He purchased the 20 acres on which he built his business and home for $1,800. Originally a tool and die shop, he had a hobby of beekeeping. To speed up the production of honey, he invented a beeswax honeycomb so close to the natural one, that bees could not tell the difference. The honeycombs he made eventually helped the business begin production of beeswax candles, Knorr said.
He found that beeswax candles did not drip or smoke and lasted much longer than the paraffin variety.
His first major account was The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, Knorr said.
“The Inn burned our candles on the dining room tables for more than 50 years,“ he said. “People who stayed at The Inn inquired about the candles and stopped by the shop for a box or two. When they got back home they would have stores in their neighborhoods request catalogs.”
Knorr said the business was passed on to his father Henry in 1950, who ran it with wife Judy until 1983, when a fire destroyed it.
Knorr, who had been in real estate, decided instead of letting the family business die to bring it back from the ashes and has run it ever since. He had an emotional investment in the business.
He had worked there summers as a youth, earning 25 cents an hour.
“I remember fruit orchards, cows and chickens. You could literally live off the land,” he said.
“I grew up here. I had horses. I rode all over Rancho Santa Fe. It has always been the place for family reunions.
His 80-year-old father still works every day, side-by-side with his son, mostly maintaining machinery, he said.
“Many people buy our candles to use on their dinner tables because they don’t smell or drip,” he said. “It’s nice to know we make a quality item.”
He said it is not unusual for a customer to come in and buy $600 worth of candles for their bathroom.
“I have mothers come in with their children, saying they came in when they were kids,” he said. “Our customers are nicer. We rarely get any complaints,”
His employees number between a handful and 100 depending on the time of year.
Some of his employees have been with him for 30 years, he said.
There are no longer bees on the property. He buys wax from a business in New York that has been in business since 1800, which provides wax from all over the world including Brazil, Africa and New Zealand.
These days the little company manufactures about a half million candles a year that are sold in stores and from catalogs. Owners of cottage industries buy the sheets of beeswax to fashion their own lines of candles.
Knorr and his crew have made candles for a few movies including “Interview With A Vampire,” and “Addicted to Love.”
The Candle Factory and Gift Shop are located at 14906 Via De La Valle in Del Mar. To learn more, visit www.knorrbeeswax.com or call (800) 807-2337.