Locals Only: Gretchen Bender

Leucadia candy maker is living the sweet life.

Gretchen Bender began making caramel 12 years ago when her father, undergoing radiation for throat cancer, would crave the mouth feel of sweets even though his sense of taste had been destroyed. She came up with a honey-vanilla flavor that has become one of the cornerstones of the Sea Salt Candy Company, which Bender founded in July with her spouse and business partner, Lisa. The products highlight California-grown ingredients, such as Chico almonds, San Francisco chocolate, and Sonoma sea salt. In addition to the caramel, which is robed in dark chocolate and sea salt, the 'Salty Sisters' candy line includes a toffee that comes from Lisa’s great-aunt Dorothy’s recipe; new items in development include salted dark chocolate and salty-sweet spiced nuts. Bender — a fourth-generation North County native whose great-great aunt was postmaster general of Leucadia in the 1950s — moved back to her Leucadia neighborhood three years ago and has enjoyed reconnecting with the community where she grew up.          

Favorite dessert in Encinitas (aside from her own candy): Are doughnuts a dessert? I grew up with the smell of drifting through my bedroom window, so I’ve always LOVED doughnuts. Leucadia Donuts was my first breakfast when we moved back to Encinitas and I think I actually cried when I sat down with that glazed old fashioned again.

Favorite meal at a local restaurant: There really are so many fantastic restaurants in this town. I probably sound like a junk food junkie, but I love the Tuesday two-for-one burgers and craft beer at !

Last purchase made in Encinitas: Bitchin’ Sauce at the The name says it all!

Ideal Encinitas day: Every day in Encinitas is ideal! An extraordinary day would be spent walking from one end of town to the other. I’d start with a run on the beach from Swami’s to “Suckouts” with a leisurely walk back and breakfast at . I’d sit and read the paper at E Street Café and spend a couple of hours perusing the local thrift stores and meandering along the 101. One of Jeff’s Bloody Mary’s at will keep me going ‘til I can get to the new Peace Pies shop (next to for a killer vegan lunch. Grab a chair, towel and Frisbee and head to Beacon’s to play with my kids, do a little body surfing and snooze on the beach. Happy hour at Le Papagayo, pick up some local craft brew at (maybe a game of pool and a cold one at the ) and head home for dinner with family and friends where we have a great sunset view. Good beer (or wine), a fire in the firepit and kids running around the backyard is the ideal end to the day! Somewhere in there is a shower and a change of clothes, too.

Favorite civic organizations: and , of course. Also, puts on so many great local events every year. I’d like to see DEMA revive the old Flower Festival that used to be held at [Paul Ecke] Central School. We had a cool flower parade with local kids, groups and businesses. Local bands played and moms made homemade pies and cakes for the cake walk. It was a true small-town event!

Favorite local business: is such a landmark for this town. My mom was a bartender there for many years. There are still pictures of her posted in the front room and behind the bar! Jerry quietly contributes so much to our community. He and Keno’s hold a special place in my heart (and share responsibility for my love of dive bars)!

Favorite Encinitas event: reminds me of those old town events I loved as a kid. I’m amazed at all the talent that resides in this little town. My son, David, loves riding on the double decker bus from one end of town to the other. Then, after we’ve seen all the art and picked out a few special pieces, we’ll sit at with a glass of wine and people watch!

Best thing about living in Encinitas: It’s still a small town and it’s so safe! There are very few places left where you don’t have to worry about being out after dark. This town is still one of those rare gems.

The one thing she’d like to change about the city: The development. I know it’s inevitable, but it makes me really sad to see cookie-cutter housing developments popping up in areas that used to be full of small houses on big lots filled with fruit trees and greenhouses.

A place in Encinitas more locals should visit: The nature trails around local lagoons. When I was kid, Batiquitos Lagoon was a total swamp. There was actually a sinking VW Bug that sat in that lagoon for years until it slowly slid completely under. Now it’s a beautiful preserve. I’m really proud of the conservation efforts in the area.

How she’d dress up the Cardiff Kook: I don’t know if I could top the great white or dinosaurs. I guess I would dress him like a mermaid with a box of 'Salty Sisters' candy in his hand. That’s our company logo!

Best place in the city to watch the sunset: The top of the hill in the canyon behind my neighborhood. That’s the only hint I’ll give.

Sea Salt Candy Company sells its treats at the Leucadia, Little Italy, and Old Town farmers markets, and will soon add Hillcrest to the rotation. To order online or inquire about corporate, special event, and fundraising offers, visit seasaltcandy.com.

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Jean December 12, 2011 at 05:00 PM
I really enjoyed reading this artical about Gretchen. Lisa and Gretchen make the best candy.It was really nice to get to know how she feels about out cool little city of Encinitas.


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