Made in Colorado 2016: Victor Ortiz
He's got a really sweet gig
Hammond’s Candies, Denver
Now 31, Ortiz started working at the venerable candy factory when he was a senior at Aurora Central High School in 2001. “I was trying to help out my parents,” he says. “I started part-time in packaging.”
He soon moved to the warehouse before going into actual candy-making. “They needed somebody to make the chocolates and the marshmallows. I asked them to give me a chance.”
The company’s leaders did just that, and Ortiz apprenticed under David Camp for more than two years and learned to make soft candy, ribbons, canes and lollipops. It was relatively easy at first, he says, before Hammond’s catalog grew to include 200 different candies.
“Over the years, the company has grown so much,” Ortiz says, noting that there were four cooks on staff when he started in 2001. Today, he leads a team of 14 cooks as sales have soared by a factor of 20. “You never stop learning,” he says.
Growth aside, the techniques are time-tested to say the least – not much has changed since Carl Hammond started the company in 1920. “Everything is handmade,” Ortiz says. “No matter what you’re making, it’s the same since they started making candy. The company has grown up so much, but we still make candy the old-fashioned way.”
Some of the hot tables in the Hammond’s candy kitchen date back to the late 1800s. A new candy puller proved too weak for the job, so it sits unused next to the industrial-strength antiques that are still in operation.
It all goes back to learning how to work with the primary building block of candy: sugar. “You can never modify it,” says Ortiz, noting that Hammond’s uses 3,000 or more pounds of sugar a day. “It’s kind of like magic.” The hot tables “are like your second helper. It helps you keep it flat and the shape you need, and the right temperature.”
The trickiest sweets to master are the hard candies that feature pictures of Halloween icons, fruit slices and even corporate logos. “It’s like making a puzzle,” he says.
When he’s not making candy, Ortiz plays in a soccer league with several co-workers, including Hammond’s CEO Andrew Schuman.