Montilio’s Baking Company and Hilliards Chocolates carry on family confectionary traditions.By Jennifer H. McInerney | Photography by Derrick Zellmann
Hilliards Chocolates Since 1924
At the Hilliards Chocolates headquarters in North Easton, batches of golden caramel are stirred in copper kettles while chocolate waterfalls flow over rows of soft candy creams.
Judy Hilliard McCarthy, the third-generation co-owner of the family business, casts an expert eye over the candies cascading through the kitchen’s machines, which were designed by her grandfather, Perley Hilliard, who founded the candy business with his wife, Jessie, in Quincy.
In the early days of candy making, the chocolate was tempered using bare hands against a marble slab. But McCarthy’s grandfather, a gifted inventor, envisioned a process that would be much more hygienic and efficient in formulating the ideal texture, sheen and flavor for chocolate-dipped candies. Her father, Alan, ultimately adapted the equipment for distribution.
“My grandfather’s candy machinery became the gold standard for chocolate making,” says McCarthy. “Chocolatiers all over the country have ordered the Hilliards Chocolate System. Godiva uses them, too.”
McCarthy was immersed in the chocolate-making business from a young age. Her parents and aunts and uncles worked together in the family business, operating 14 stores throughout the region, as well as locations on Martha’s Vineyard and in West Hartford, Connecticut. In 1950, her parents opened a Hilliards Kitch-In-Vue Candy shop, an open-concept retail space in North Easton where the candy was made within view of the customers. In high school, Judy helped out at the Martha’s Vineyard store during her summer breaks.
In 1981, Judy and her husband, Charlie, bought the business from her aunts and uncles, essentially preserving the family legacy. In addition to the original North Easton location, Hilliards now has stores in Norwell and Mansfield.
Over the years, McCarthy has become well-versed in the analytics of the business—gauging sales and inventory to determine which items will sell well. Close to 20,000 caramel apples fly off the shelves between mid-September and Thanksgiving and in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the kitchen churns away like Santa’s workshop. Before the Valentine’s Day holiday, the skilled chocolate makers assemble heart-shaped boxes filled with assortments of dipped chocolates. Other favorites include chocolate-covered strawberries, solid milk chocolate roses and chocolate sweetheart bears.
The McCarthy’s daughters have now officially part of the family business—the fourth generation to work in the family’s chocolate shop. Their older daughter, Erin, is currently the company’s director of social media and photography. And their younger daughter, Maegan, recently began mentorship under the direction of her parents.
“It’s great to know that our kids grew up in the family business and that they know it well,” says McCarthy. “We’re very proud that the Hilliards name has carried on and we’re thrilled that the business is going into a new generation.”
Later this spring, Hilliards will break ground on a new two-story kitchen facility that will add 13,000 square feet of work and warehouse space to the company’s North Easton headquarters. The existing building be reorganized to accommodate the design and mail order departments as well as ice cream sales.
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Montilio’s Baking Company, Since 1947
George Montilio winds his way through the nooks and crannies of his bakery’s Brockton headquarters, stopping frequently to chat with employees and admire their handiwork. Each area of the bakery serves an integral role in the production of the company’s well-loved desserts and pastries, which are delivered twice daily to its retail stores in Weymouth, Braintree and Quincy, as well as to high-end restaurants, hotels, and venues like Gillette Stadium and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Having essentially grown up in his father Ernie’s bakery in Quincy, Montilio is clearly in his element among the giant mixers, mammoth ovens and dough-rolling machinery. He’s equally comfortable discussing fancy fondant flowers with cake decorators as he is rolling towering racks of croissants in the pastry division. “We make everything from scratch and deliver a fresh product every day,” he says.
At Montilio’s, it’s not just about the quality of ingredients or the quantity and variety of baked goods on the menu—it’s also about magnitude. Over the past five decades, the bakery has been commissioned to create special-occasion cakes on a grand scale for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, and Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy.
“I’ll never forget the cake for the Queen of England,” says Montilio. “It was an enormous replica of her ship, the Brittania.” Queen Elizabeth visited Boston for the Bicentennial celebration in 1976—only two years after Montilio took over the family business from his father. Following the ceremonial cutting of the first piece of cake, the queen requested that her cake be moved onto the Brittania.
“The cake was too wide for the gangway, so it had to be transported by a crane over the water using four chains and a steel plate. They could only move it a few inches at a time because it wouldn’t stop rocking,” says Montilio. “I was certain that cake was going to end up in the ocean. But they managed to get it safely onboard in one piece.”
Montilio’s continues to be a family affair, with George’s sister, Ernestine, working in the order-entry division, and his daughter, Elissa, managing the bustling wedding department. Special occasion cakes, particularly wedding cakes, are the bakery’s specialty. During peak season, anywhere from 50 to 70 wedding cakes are created each week.
For Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped cakes and cupcakes are always popular, as are the gourmet cheesecakes, bite-sized eclairs, French macarons and miniature cupcakes, which are perfect for sharing.
“We like to say that three million people have eaten our cake,” says Montilio. “There’s so much history in this business. It’s so great to see the family tradition continue.”
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