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Meet the Maker: The Graves Family, Griff’s Toffee

Meet the Maker: The Graves Family, Griff’s Toffee

, by Erin Byers Murray

Like so many memorable Southern food stories, the tale of Griff’s Toffee starts with a family recipe. Karen Graves spent years honing and perfecting a recipe for pecan toffee inside her Chapel Hill kitchen—all with the help of her top test-taster, husband Griff, who praised the rich, buttery flavor of her dark chocolate and pecan toffee. In 2006, she decided to make that scrumptious hobby into a home-based business and Chapel Hill Toffee made its debut inside a nearby specialty foods market.

One of Karen’s two sons, Mark, had graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a business degree and after watching his mom launch and grow the business, decided to join her in the kitchen in 2008. Four years later, Mark brought his wife, fellow Chapel Hill native, Christy, into the mix. As

The Graves Family of Griff's Toffee

Mark cooked alongside Karen, he recorded her recipes and made plans for their next step of growth, including planning for the equipment they might need in order to scale to a commercial-sized operation. The family received advice and support from near and far, including Christy’s mother, Dina Bray, who assisted in every aspect of the business, as well as Karen’s brother, Vic Clark, who also happened to be in the candy manufacturing business—he and his colleagues remain advisors and sounding boards to this day.

A true family affair, Griff’s has been a labor of love for the Graves—as well as a crash course in launching a small business. “We’ve become plumbers and electricians out of pure necessity,” Christy says. “Designing packaging, learning out how to market, sell and increase distribution—it’s all new territory for us and we’ve had to figure it all out along the way.”

Unfortunately, in 2013, Griff passed away suddenly. The toffee’s biggest fan, and Karen’s greatest cheerleader, had supported the business from the start—to honor him, they decided to name their growing national brand Griff’s Toffee. Soon, the time came to move the business to a commercial space. Karen’s other son, Scott, also joined the team, and today, Karen, Mark, and Scott work side-by-side in the kitchen making and packaging toffee while Christy, a mom of three young boys, supports the business while working from home.

Griff's Coffee Toffee  Griff's Toffee Ice Cream Pie  Griff's Pecan Toffee 

Griff’s Toffee is now the preferred toffee of people around the country. “It always makes us feel so good when folks tell us that they choose our toffee to carry with them when traveling, as a welcome gift for out-of-town visitors, or even as their wedding favors,” Christy says. “To be told that our family’s candy is what someone has chosen to represent their own family is the highest compliment we can receive.”

Beyond the sweet treats they hand craft in Chapel Hill, the Graves are also deeply invested in cancer care for women—Christy’s mom Dina, who was instrumental in the company’s growth, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017 and passed away just three weeks later. Christy and the family created Dina’s Dynasty, an ovarian cancer fund through UNC Lineberger, to develop a reliable screening method and care for ovarian cancer patients. A portion of every Griff’s Toffee sale now goes toward the fund—they’ve raised $30,000—which makes supporting this small, Southern business twice as sweet.

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