A product that’s become an iconic N.C.-made sweet treat began like many other specialty foods in the state – in a family’s home kitchen. After many years of making toffee, Karen Graves turned her hobby into a business right from her Chapel Hill home in 2006. Chapel Hill Toffee was born.
Cooking in tight quarters on a small stove and using kitchen counters and the dining room table was the norm. Karen’s son Mark joined the growing business in 2008, and his wife Christy soon followed.
“As we expanded into more stores and demand for the product grew, we were fortunate enough to make the leap into a larger commercial kitchen where we still work side by side to produce our gourmet dark chocolate and pecan toffee,” said Christy Graves.
It’s still a family affair, Christy explained. Every step from start to finish is handled by a member of the family. That means someone with the last name of Graves has a hand in cooking, cleaning, packaging and delivering the toffee. That now includes Karen’s oldest son Scott too.
Chapel Hill Toffee has a layer of traditional English toffee cut into bite sized squares and coated on both sides with a blend of dark chocolates. It’s a secret family recipe. In addition to the taste, what sets the toffee apart is a dusting of chopped pecans.
“It’s a distinctive southern twist,” Christy said.
These days, you can find Chapel Hill Toffee in more than 400 stores and on chapelhilltoffee.com. Christy said they like the idea of people finding their toffee in stores because then you benefit two businesses. In addition to Chapel Hill Toffee, you can find Griff’s Coffee Toffee, which includes a touch of espresso. Outside of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Toffee is rebranded as Griff’s Pecan Toffee.
Griff was Karen’s husband and the father of Mark and Scott. He passed away very unexpectedly in 2013.
“When it was time to grow outside of our small-town branding, we wanted to honor him, our toffee’s first and biggest fan,” Christy explained.
When Mark and Christy’s first son was born in 2015, they named him Griff. There’s another family connection to the toffee too. After Christy’s mother Dina Bray died from ovarian cancer in 2017, the family established a cancer fund in her memory at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center. With the purchase of each box of toffee, a portion of the sale is donated to the Dina’s Dynasty cancer fund.
Christy said many customers love to give the toffee as gifts. It’s a unique way to share a taste of Chapel Hill, and some give it as a go-to hostess or housewarming gift. She said the family loves to hear customers say it’s their favorite gift to give or that it tastes just like the toffee each person’s mother used to make.
Those compliments are especially sweet for a family that’s still making a special treat right here in North Carolina.
“We consider ourselves blessed to be able to spend every day surrounded by family, working together to grow our company and make our dreams come true!” Christy said.
[Chapel Hill Toffee is one of many North Carolina businesses that are part of the N.C. Specialty Foods Association. Find more information about the businesses and their made-in-N.C. foods at ncspecialtyfoods.org. Chapel Hill Toffee is listed in the directory under its corporate name KLG Candies.]