Ron Kotteman, also known as the Roman Candy Man, is as familiar to New Orleanians as red beans and rice.
Kotteman’s Sicilan great-grandmother, Angelina Napoli Cortese, made the candy from a secret family recipe. After seeing the great demand for his mother’s taffy, Sam Cortese decided to make a business out of it. In 1915 he designed a wagon that not only served as a storefront but also was designed so the candy could be made on board. He called it Roman Candy, and sold it for 5 cents a stick. The price remained the same until 1970.
After Cortese’s death in 1969, his grandson Ron took over the business. He and his mule Patsy still use the same cart that his grandfather built. The candy comes in three flavors – chocolate, strawberry and vanilla – and is unique to New Orleans. However, its fame reaches far beyond the area. The Slow Food USA organization has placed Roman Candy into its U.S. Ark of Taste, a collection of only 200 foods that are in danger of extinction. By promoting these foods, they hope to keep them around.
While the Roman Candy Man has no set route, there are a few places he frequents often: the French Quarter, Audubon Zoo and, of course, St. Charles Avenue. He can also be found every year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Kotteman has only missed one since 1974, and sells thousands of sticks of his delightfully sticky taffy every day of the fest.