Leon’s grandfather, Constantine Vlahos, arrived in New Orleans from Greece in 1888. With the dream to succeed in America, Constantine went to work with a native New Orleans man making pralines. He soon began making the traditional recipes full-time. While Leon’s father was just a young boy, he sold the pralines on the streets of New Orleans to all the locals. Constantine soon paved the way for the rest of his family to come to America.
The Vlahos family left New Orleans for Birmingham in 1940. Because of patriotic reasons, Leon’s father named the new Alabama company Mary Ball, after George Washington’s mother. The entire family cooked. Leon and his five siblings had a job to do. Leon started by washing the sticky copper kettles at 5 yrs-old. In 1942, his great-uncles, who were in their nineties, loved Leon and knew he was interested in cooking. They showed him how to make the secret recipes and he began cooking at age 10.
Mary Ball Candy became a thriving business and soon opened 5 stores serving pralines, turtles, pecan rolls, English toffee and other chocolate confections in Birmingham, in Atlanta on Peachtree St. and in Nashville at the Hermitage Hotel. When Leon’s father passed away in 1955, his mother sold Mary Ball and Leon declined to go with the new owners.
After meeting his wife, Myrna, in Birmingham, Leon landed a job in the clothing industry. After 20 yrs in the business, the passion for making his family’s confections still resonated within him. In 1988 he dusted off his father’s handwritten recipes and picked up where he left off. In 1994 Pralines by Leon opened in the present Historic Downtown Nashville location. His confections have since been on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, in Southern Living Magazine twice, in local Nashville publications and News stations. His candy was served at George W. Bush’s First State of the Union Address dinner and he received a letter concluding there was “not a single leftover praline!”
Pralines by Leon are shipped daily to thousands of private homes and businesses all over the world. After 17 years Myrna and the Vlahos family still make 8 varieties of pralines and 10 other handmade confections daily. All are made with the finest ingredients, without preservatives and are gluten free (with the exception of our pralines with alcohol).
Move over, Willy Wonka. That fictional character of candy-making fame can’t compete with the real deal. Tucked away on Nashville’s Second Avenue, Leon’s Candy boasts a storied past rivaling any in Music City’s historic district.