With Richard Nixon, it was cottage cheese and ketchup. Jimmy Carter lusted, snackwise, for peanuts. Now, in the Reagan White House, the official national nosh has become jelly beans, and no one is happier than Herman Goelitz Rowland, 40. He runs the family-founded, Oakland-based confectionery Herman Goelitz Inc., the authorized purveyor to the White House and before that to the California executive mansion.
Reagan was introduced to Rowland’s gourmet jelly beans back in 1969. The then California governor had quit smoking years before and turned to popping candy as an oral substitute. When Rowland sent him some of his jelly beans, the Gov was hooked. Since then Reagan has always kept a jar full of Rowland’s beans on his desk. “It’s gotten to the point,” he wrote his supplier during his gubernatorial administration, “where we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around a jar of jelly beans. We owe you a special measure of thanks for helping keep our state government running smoothly.”
Rowland, an ardent Republican, insists he has always resisted the notion of exploiting his No. 1 customer. “We never told the press Reagan eats our beans,” he says of Goelitz Jelly Bellys, which cost a hefty $3.50 to $4 a pound retail and come in 36 flavors, including watermelon, peanut butter, mai tai, root beer and hot jalapeño. Then he adds: “We didn’t need to tell anyone. They’re the best.”
Reagan, of course, isn’t the only celebrated aficionado of Jelly Bellys. Barbra Streisand and Cathy Lee Crosby favor licorice. Jerry Lewis and Andy Kaufman prefer cherry, while Keenan Wynn’s favorite is green apple and Paul Newman’s is chocolate pudding. Like Reagan, Jack Lemmon, Robert (Vega$) Urich and Glenn Ford are more eclectic and purchase assorted Jelly Bellys.
What makes Goelitz the Famous Amos of jelly beans? “The regular bean has a clear, flavorless center,” explains Rowland. “All the flavor and color are put in the shell. If possible, we use natural flavors all the way through,” he boasts. Accordingly, each bean takes “between seven and eight days to produce.” He recommends that customers also take their time. “My beans must be eaten one by one,” he cautions. “If you mix them you might get a strange taste.” Some blends are recommended, however. For example, Rowland claims that two peanut butter beans and two grape beans will satisfy a craving for peanut butter and jelly, and insists that lemon mixed with coconut Jelly Bellys duplicate the taste if not the texture of lemon meringue pie.
The Rowland family has been in the business since Herman’s great-great-uncle Albert started out in the Midwest peddling pralines from a horse-drawn wagon. But it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the company, then run by Herman’s parents (they retired in 1970), added jelly beans to its line of gum drops, orange slices and Dutch mints. With plants in Chicago and Oakland, the firm now produces more Jelly Bellys than anything else—about four million pounds (over two billion beans) that are sold throughout the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. His next target market is Europe, where the jelly bean, a French and Turkish invention, has been popular since the 19th century.
A self-described “country boy,” Rowland lives on a ranch some 15 miles east of Oakland in Walnut Creek with his wife, Andrea, three of their four children and a small menagerie including 12 Arabian horses, 30 chickens, four peacocks and two llamas. He happily made the trek to Washington, however, after Reagan invited him to the Inauguration. Rowland donated 7,000 pounds of Jelly Bellys for the event (“That’s a contribution of $28,000”) and presented the new Commander in Chief with a personal gift: red, white and blue beans in glass jars emblazoned with the presidential seal. But all the hobnobbing hasn’t turned Rowland’s head. When the inaugural invitation came, he reports, “My wife said, ‘I might need a fur coat.’ And I said, ‘Great. Find out where you can rent one!’ ”