Knorr Candles burn bright in Del Mar for 85 years
By Kristina Houck
The Knorr family has made handcrafted beeswax candles in Del Mar
for three generations.
Ferdinand Knorr founded the candle-making operation in 1928. He purchased the 20-acre farm where he built his business and home for $1,800, said Henry Knorr, Ferdinand’s son.
A machinist and beekeeping hobbyist, Ferdinand invented a beeswax honeycomb to cut costs and increase the production of honey. The honeycombs he created eventually led to the production of beeswax candles.
“He had more wax than he could use for honeycomb sheets,” said Henry, who has lived on the property for 87 years. “He thought if he made a candle, that would burn it up. So he started experimenting with making candles.”
The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe and local gift shops began purchasing the candles, Henry said. The beeswax candles did not drip or smoke and lasted much longer than paraffin-based candles.
In the 1950s, Henry purchased the business, which he ran with his wife Judy. In his first year, he produced 50,000 pounds of beeswax at 25 cents per pound. The business produced more than 300,000 pounds of beeswax per year by the early 1990s, when his son took over the company.
Although his son, Steve Knorr, now owns the business, former owner Henry continues to be hands-on. The 92-year-old maintains the machines he built in the factory more than 50 years ago.
“Anytime a machine is broken, Henry is the first person we call,” said Office Manager Susan Prickett as she smiled at Henry. “We still need you. We need you to fix the machines.”
Today the factory produces about 100,000 pounds of wax at $4.50 per pound per year. The 100 percent beeswax candles, which are available in more than 30 colors and a variety of designs, have lit the homes of local residents and celebrities such as Bob Hope and the Kardashians. Beginning in the Truman Administration, Knorr Beeswax Candles also burned at the White House, a tradition that continued through the Clinton administration.
“You’ll never find candles that are anything like ours,” said Prickett, who has worked at the company for 15 years. “They’re the best candles in the world.”
Business hasn’t always been easy, however.
A fire destroyed much of the factory on a summer day in the early 1980s. The factory was rebuilt and the family was back in business by the fall, Henry said.
More recently, the company struggled when gift shops that sold Knorr candles closed because of the recession.
“Their business went down because people just weren’t buying gifts anymore,” Prickett said. “We lost a lot of business that way. But for some reason, we’ve managed to make it through every year.
“It’s not an easy business; it’s not a business that you make a lot of money in. It’s more a heart and soul thing. It’s just part of our lives.”
In addition to offering high-quality products, Henry and Prickett said the family-run business has been around for 85 years because it operates in a family environment. Some of the roughly dozen employees have worked alongside the Knorr family for 30 years.
“Everything is handmade here, and they’re handmade by the same people who have always made them,” Prickett said. “We take a lot of care and pride in what we make.”
“It amazes me that everybody is just like family,” Henry added. “I like it that way.”
The Knorr Candle Factory and Artisan Marketplace are located at 14906 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, 92014; 760-431-2007. For more about Knorr Beeswax Products, visit www.knorrbeeswax.com.
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