Greek Immigrants in Minnesota: Origins of a Delicious Legacy

VIRGINIA, MN – Starting around 1890, many Greeks, mainly single men, and many in their teens, left their villages in the Peloponnese region of Greece to find opportunity in America. They were poor farmers and shepherds, and America needed laborers for its railroads, mines, and mills for its growing economy. This is a story about four Greek brothers who came to America from the village of Sykea and decided to become confectioners (candy makers) instead.

The Canelake brothers came to America from a poor village in Greece as teenagers and soon became successful confectionery merchants on the Iron Range of Minnesota. They opened the Virginia Candy Kitchen in 1905 and later opened four more stores: the Olympia Candy Kitchen in Virginia and the Hibbing Candy Kitchen, Arcadia Candy Kitchen, and Canelake’s Cafe in Hibbing. (Many of the Greek owners of confectioneries across America called their stores “candy kitchens” since they made their homemade candies on location in copper kettles.)

In the 1940s, the Virginia Candy Kitchen was renamed Canelake’s Candies. Today, the four of the 15 grandchildren of Gust Leo Canelake, one of the founding brothers, own and operate Canelake’s Candies, the family’s earliest confectionery store, which is believed to be the oldest continuously operated confectionery in Minnesota.

The Canelake name in Greece was Kanellakis. Upon coming to America, many Greeks shortened and anglicized their names, both first and last, to have them sound more American, to make it easier for non-Greek customers to pronounce, or simply due to their frustration with the frequent misspellings and mispronunciations by immigration authorities and census workers. The Canelake brothers’ parents, Leonidas Kanellakis and Stamatia Papadakis, had four daughters and five sons.

According to family members, the four daughters never came to America. All five of the brothers, Christ, Gust, Thomas, John, and Nicholas, came to America, but John was denied entry due to an illness and had to return to Greece. The middle name of all the brothers was Leonidas after their father’s first name. It was customary for Greeks to use their father’s name as their middle name.

Confectioneries are stores that sell candy, specifically home-made chocolates for the Greek-owned confectioneries, along with ice cream and other sweets and typically include a soda fountain. Since Greeks enjoy their newspapers and cigars, many also sold these items.

According to Coming to America (Second Edition): A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels, “The settlement patterns of Greeks were quite dispersed, but almost all of them pursued urban occupations. The soil had little attraction for Greek emigrants who associated it with misery and hardship in their native land.… The economic niches filled by immigrants in small businesses are not predictable based on what immigrants did in the old country. Few if any emigrating Greeks ran restaurants in Greece, just as few Italians ran barbershops in Italy, and no Chinese ran laundries in China.… Other lightly capitalized lines that attracted large numbers of Greeks were candy stores and confectioneries of various kinds.”

The National Herald The site of the old Kanellakis (Canelake) home overlooking the Molai Plain in Greece in 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Canelake

The majority of the Greek confectioners in Minnesota were from small rural villages in the regional unit of Laconia in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese, including the Canelake brothers, who were from Sykea, a small village of less than 800 people. The Peloponnese constitutes the southernmost part of mainland Greece and is about the size of the state of New Jersey and a tenth of the size of Minnesota. Many young male Greeks left their homeland because currants, their primary cash crop, dropped in price.

Other Greek confectioners on the Iron Range were also from Sykea and from the neighboring village of Katavothra, where the Lagges brothers of the Eveleth Candy Kitchen and Anna Batsakis Canelake, the paternal grandmother of the current owners of Canelake’s Candies, were from.

Chris Canelake, a grandchild of Gust Canelake and a co-owner with his siblings of Canelake’s Candies in Virginia, visited Greece in 2017. His trip included his paternal grandparents’ home villages of Sykea and Metamorfosi (formerly Katavothra). Chris told me his Papou (grandfather) used to tell his dad that he could see Metamorfosi from his house, where his Yia Yia (grandmother) was from. Chris said he verified that during his trip.

Greek-owned confectioneries

My interest in this phenomenon of America’s Greek-owned confectioneries started a few years ago when I was trying to learn more about the life of my Greek grandfather, Thomas (Athanasios) Kokovikas, who owned the Morris Candy Kitchen in Morris, Minnesota, from 1919 to 1962. He was born in Sella, Greece, a rural village in the regional unit of Achaia. During his time working for the Great Northern Railway, he learned his candy making skills on weekends from a fellow Greek, Theodore Curtis, who owned the Boston Candy Kitchen in Willmar.

A confectionery in Tuscola, Illinois, called Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, was reopened in 2004 by the two granddaughters of its Greek founder after being closed since the 1970s. This gave me additional inspiration to learn more about this phenomenon of Greek confectioneries.

City business directories in the early 1900s and into the late 1950s had a separate heading for confectioneries due to their popularity and number. Greeks owned a disproportionate share of these establishments based on their share of the population in the community. The number of foreign-born residents of Minnesota from Greece never exceeded 0.1 percent of the population, yet there were at least 70 cities in Minnesota in the early 1900s that had at least one Greek-owned confectionery.

According to U. S. Census data, there were no foreign-born Greeks living in Minnesota until the 1890 Census, when there were 14 recorded. That number grew to 2,291 by 1920.

The Canelake brothers’ first cousins, Louis and James Canelake, at one time worked at the Hibbing Candy Kitchen, with Louis later having his own confectioneries in Cherokee and Storm Lake, Iowa, and James starting a billiard parlor in Hibbing. On their mother’s side, they also had first cousins who became owners of candy kitchens in Iowa. The Papadakis’ cousins were also born in Sykea. Charles and John Papadakis had the Emmetsburg Candy Kitchen.

Constantine (Gus) and George Papadakis had the Britt Candy Kitchen (in Britt, Iowa, not Britt, Minnesota), but before owning their own store, they learned their candy-making skills from their first cousins on the Range, where Gus worked at the Virginia Candy Kitchen; George, at the Hibbing Candy Kitchen. John Trehas, a possible relative, opened the Nashwauk Candy Kitchen after World War I.

Christ Canelake, the oldest of the five sons of Leonidas, arrived in Philadelphia on May 6, 1891, when he was nearly 17. The next oldest son was Gust, who arrived in New York City on May 15, 1892, at the age of 15. It is not known for sure when the third oldest, Thomas, first arrived in America, but he lived in Providence, Rhode Island, by 1898, at the age of 18.

It is the understanding of the family that Christ and Thomas spent time in New York City, as did many of his countrymen. Gust may have also spent time in New York City before coming to the Midwest in 1901.

Artemis Canelake Karos, the daughter of the youngest brother, Nicholas, had indicated the following about the time Christ and Thomas spent in New York City: “Christ and Thomas moved into a dismal basement room in New York and for the next year or so strove to earn a living selling flowers, fruit, and produce on the streets of New York. Their early limited English skills created some difficult situations. On one occasion, they were arrested because they’d failed to obtain a vendor’s license. On several occasions, they became victims of abuse and malicious vandalism because their faulty English caused them to be misunderstood or to appear rude because they couldn’t respond appropriately.”

In 1898 Christ and Thomas lived in Providence, Rhode Island, where Costas Costakos, who was also from Sykea, was one of the founders of the Greek community there. It is believed that either Mr. Costakos or a friend/relative of his, taught Christ the candy making trade. Their brother, John, arrived in New York on July 15, 1898, intending to proceed to Providence. According to family records, John was turned away at the port after symptoms of tuberculosis were detected. He had to return to Greece, where he died a few years later of his illness.

Christ Canelake lived in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area from 1903 to 1905. He had a confectionery in De Pere, Wisconsin, near Green Bay and also co-owned a confectionery in Green Bay, the Boston Candy Store, with Angelus Grammas (Grammatikas), a fellow Greek from Sykea.

The National Herald Hibbing Candy Kitchen at 308 3rd Ave. circa 1910. Pictured are Nicholas Canelake, 19, and his cousin, George Papadakes, 18. Photo: Courtesy of Pamela Canelake Matson

Coming to the Iron Range

It is not known how long Gust stayed in New York City or whether he also went to Providence. It was known that he worked at an iron factory in Waukegan, Illinois, where his first cousin Peter Canelakes worked, before coming to the Iron Range. Artemis Canelake Karos writes, “It is in Waukegan that the [Canelake] brothers learned of the thriving mining and lumber industries of northern Minnesota. When Christ and Thomas arrived on the Iron Range, they found boomtowns; the white pine lumber industry of Virginia and the pervasive iron ore mining of the Range were well underway.”

The first mention of the Canelake name (with its possible misspellings) in the Virginia Enterprise was on October 6, 1905: “Canalake [sic.] Bros. will open, tomorrow afternoon, a wholesale and retail Candy Kitchen in the building next to the corner opposite the Virginia Hardware Co. The gentlemen are experienced candy makers and will make a specialty of fine home-made candies and sweets of every description.” The Canelake brothers’ first confectionery was only temporary, since only two weeks later they signed a lease to move into a new building at 417 Chestnut St. in only a couple months.

The Canelake brothers moved into their new store the first week of December 1905 in time for the Christmas season. The Canelakes’ youngest brother, Nicholas, came directly to Virginia after arriving in America just shy of his 15th birthday on June 26, 1906.

The National Herald An advertisement for the opening of Virginia Candy Kitchen in Minnesota. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Froemming

Growth of the confectioneries

The relatively large number

of confectioneries in Hibbing did not deter the brothers from expanding their business into that village in May 1907. The May 10, 1907, Virginia Enterprise reported, “Canelake Bros., proprietors of the Virginia Candy Kitchen, have leased a store room in the new Miles Theatre block at Hibbing, adjoining the theatre entrance, and will open a branch business at that point later in the month. Their time on the Miles Theatre block on the corner of was short-lived, since a fire on November 29, 1907, completely destroyed the building. After the fire, the Canelake brothers relocated their Hibbing Candy Kitchen one block over to 308 3rd Ave.

In the 1907 business classifieds, the east Range towns had 36 confectioneries, and Duluth already had 111. Charles Mars and Alex George, who started the Minnesota Candy Kitchen in Duluth in 1902, opened another business of the same name in 1908 at 308 Chestnut St. In 1910, the partners started a confectionery in Hibbing directly across the street from the Canelakes’ Hibbing Candy Kitchen, at 307 3rd Ave, which in 1912 was owned and operated by James Costakos.

In 1909 Sam Lagges started the Eveleth Candy Kitchen, and Sam Pappas (Pappadakis) started the Chisholm Candy Kitchen. Both were from Katavothra. In 1912 the Canelake brothers opened a second store in Hibbing on 516 3rd Ave., called the Arcadia Candy Kitchen, which they sold in 1918 to George Koutroulakis, a relative from Sykea.

The Canelake brothers continued to expand and opened their fourth confectionery in 1914. The Virginia Daily Enterprise wrote on March 20, 1914, “Canelake’s new store, the Olympia Candy Kitchen [at 304 Chestnut St.,] opened its doors for business at a new location in the First National bank building this morning and has been crowded with many friends and patrons of the concern throughout the day. Carnations are being given to every customer, the refreshment parlor and tables are resplendent with red and white carnations and the store throughout presents a very tasty appearance.”

The National Herald An advertisement for Virginia Candy Kitchen in Minnesota. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Froemming

By 1914, the Greeks had become a dominant presence in the confectionery field on the Range. Saloons would soon be impacted by local anti-saloon legislation and later by Prohibition. These laws brought opportunities to the confectioneries, including the Canelake brothers, to be the new social gathering place. Christmas 1916 was the Virginia Candy Kitchen’s last at 417 Chestnut before the brothers opened at their new location at 414 Chestnut. A saloon at that site was torn down and replaced with a one-story building. The Canelake brothers opened at their current location on February 17, 1917.

Jim Froemming graduated from Eveleth High School in 1972 and now lives in Eden Prairie. He is a distant cousin of the Canelake family. He wrote another article about Greek-owned confectioneries in the August 7, 2020, issue of Hometown Focus which also appeared in The National Herald August 15, 2020.


About the author

Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *