Bel Air’s Candy Kitchen was a Main Street mainstay from 1918 to 1990. Owner Pota Ayres worked 12 to 14 hours a day, cooking, serving and singlehandedly tossing out anyone she felt was disruptive or disorderly.
Pota Panagiotopoulos was born in a small village near Sparta, Greece. When she was 15, she arrived at the New York Harbor by ship. She wore a tag around her neck that spelled her name and included a note that her father was a candy maker at Lexington Market. She carried $25 in cash. She spoke no English and wandered around until she drew the attention of local police officers. Somehow, they helped Pota get to Baltimore and find her father.
In 1918, Pota, her father and his fellow candy maker, Nick Panos, arrived in Bel Air by horse and buggy and opened Main Street’s Candy Kitchen.
The Sunday after the move Pota’s father told her that he had arranged for her to marry Nick. Luckily, according to her, she liked Nick. Together the couple ran the store making all types of confections and raising their five children until Nick’s death in 1936.
This created a dilemma for the young mother. Her husband was the candy maker, but she had to continue the business to support the children. She changed the business to a beer and luncheonette establishment since the Prohibition era was over and drink was in demand. At the end of each day, she walked to the family home on Broadway.
After World War II, she married Earl Ayres and remained with him for 27 years until his death in 1973. Miss Nick, as she was known by many of her customers, ran the store until 1990 when her son took over. Old timers still reminisce about the hot dogs, beer and, of course, “Miss Nick.”