Peter Paul leaves family legacy

Barbara Coelho from Naugatuck and Edith Gooch from Waterbury, both combined with 64 years on the job at Peter Paul Hershey, inspect the alignment of the almonds in a Almond Joy candy bar, at the Naugatuck plant before it closed. - RA ARCHIVES

Naugatuck may be known as “Rubber City,” but for over 80 years, a sweeter product played a major role in the borough.

Peter Paul shuttered its doors in 2007, but its legacy of family business lives on.

Tom Tatoian, like his father and grandfather before him, worked for Peter Paul for 32 years.

He wasn’t alone. Many of the company’s employees worked with their parents, spouses, children, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

“Everyone that worked there was considered family,” Tatoian said.

Whenever the company posted notices, they would address them ‘to our Peter Paul family,’ he said. “It was a very tight and good company to work for.”

Tatoian grew up down the street from the company.

“As early as I can remember as a child, I used to go to the factory with my father,” he said.

Tatoian started working at the factory when he was in high school in 1958.

The Peter Paul building may no longer be a Naugatuck landmark once Hershey Foods demolishes it in the coming months. -LARAINE WESCHLER

“That was the natural thing to do,” he said.

After college, he transferred to the company’s plant in Salinas, Calif., and then became plant manager at their Dallas factory. He returned to Naugatuck in 1974 as plant manager.

“Having worked in various locations throughout the country … I would say that the people in Naugatuck were the most loyal and dedicated employees I ever worked with,” Tatoian said.

Everyone who worked at the factory felt like they were a part of it, he said.

Even though he moved on to other jobs before the factory shut down three years ago, Tatoian said he has fond memories of operating and growing with the company.

“I was proud to be a part of that,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Tatoian said he had hoped when Peter Paul closed that another candy company would come in there and buy the building, but it would be hard to do in today’s economic climate.

“I understand why Hershey closed it because of the cost of operations and the fact that they had other locations,” said Tatoian.

Tatigians worked at Peter Paul from the moment it was founded until John Tatigian retired in 1988.

Harry Tatigian, John’s grandfather, was the company’s first employee and the only chocolate maker they had at the time. When Harry died, John’s grandmother married another founder, George Shamlian, who invented the Mounds formula.

Even though his father was president of the company from 1950 to 1965, Harry Tatigian never thought he would end up there as well.

“After I finished Notre Dame, I was going to go to the west coast and work as a corporate lawyer,” Tatigian said.

However, his grandfather encouraged him to try working at Peter Paul for a year.

“And that was it,” Tatigian said. He never left.

When Cadbury bought Peter Paul, they took down the Peter Paul sign.

“We kind of lost our identity in that period,” Tatigian said.

But then Hershey bought the company in 1988 and put up the Peter Paul sign again.

“It was a nice working environment with good people. … That’s still the thing that always impressed me. I knew everybody by their first name,” Tatigian said.

For the past century, inhabitants of Naugatuck worked for the rubber company, the glass company, or the candy company. As the others declined, Peter Paul became a major employer in the town.

“At the end, when [the other companies] went out, we were the top tax payer for a while,” Tatigian said.

He said that women who lived near the plant loved it because it slowed down over Christmas and when the kids were on vacation, so mothers could spend more time with their children.

“For a long time there, we had our own cafeteria where they sold hot meals. Coffee was still a nickel a cup,” Tatigian said.

In a few weeks, the building that housed the factory will be coming down, according to Kirk Saville, spokesman for Hershey Foods, which owns the property.

“We’re clearing the way for the sale and ultimately the redevelopment of the property,” Saville said.

He wouldn’t comment on a timeline, but workers at the site said demolition will probably start in the next few weeks. They are currently removing asbestos and putting up a fence to prepare for the work.

Hershey had not yet filed for a demolition permit from the Naugatuck Building Department as of press time.

Saville gave no indication of what will happen to the property or if there are any potential buyers.

When the building comes down, the borough will lose out on some tax revenue.

About one-third of the taxes Hershey pays on the New Haven Road property are for the building itself. By demolishing the 245,000 square foot building, Hershey would pay $44,353 less per year, according to Naugatuck Tax Collector James Goggin.

“I think they think their property is more valuable with their building down,” he said.

The value of the parcel is appraised at $5,703,760. Hershey paid $11,500,000 for the property when they purchased it in 1988.

Tatigian said the imminent demise of the building doesn’t concern him as much as the loss of jobs suffered when the factory closed three years ago.

“A building is nothing without people,” he said.

Since he retired, Tatigian tries to stay away from the old business.

“I even drive around so I don’t have to go past it,” said Tatigian, who lives in Cheshire.

Tatigian said the cost of doing business in Connecticut is tough. Virginia was able to secure Peter Paul’s new location when they shut down the Naugatuck plant.

“The state of Connecticut better start waking up or there’s going to be more of that,” Tatigian said.