If Uncle Jim and Anthony Giambri are looking down now, they're smiling.

Their Giambri's Quality Sweets in Clementon was just named a New Jersey Family Business of the Year, an award now in its 22d year that is sponsored by the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University, PNC Bank, and New Jersey Monthly.

"It's quite an honor," said Dave Giambri, 51, Anthony's son and company president.

He was nominated by his son David, 22, a recent Drexel University graduate and the fourth generation in the family business.

The Giambris have been making candy by hand since 1942, when Jim, an Italian immigrant, started the business out of his South Philadelphia home. Before that, he made candy for the John Wanamaker department store.

In the early 1970s, his nephew Anthony took the reins and moved the company across the river. When Anthony died in 1980, three days after his uncle, it fell to his wife, Josephine, and their five sons to keep the business going. Dave, the youngest, was 17. But by then, he was already a veteran.

"I started when I was 8 or 9," he said, chuckling. "They'd put me in a back room making bunnies. Chocolate bunnies."

His brothers eventually went on to other things, but when crunch time hits - say, the December holiday rush or pre-Easter - the family comes together.

The brothers will be pulling handmade candy canes. His mother, in her 80s, makes bows for the holiday trays. Dave's wife, Patty, a hair stylist, and daughters Brielle, a teacher, and Sammi, a graduate student, also do their part.

Dave figures that at one time or another, all of his nearly 20 nieces and nephews have worked for the family business. Even a future son-in-law has been pressed into service.

That's the good thing about a family business, he said.

"Especially with a big family," he said. "You can always call on them when you're in a pinch."

Over time, the business has grown to employ about 15 people. It has gone from mostly retail to majority wholesale, supplying to businesses such as Dillard's and Dylan's Candy Bar in New York City. The Devon Horse Show goes through about 8,000 Giambri lemon straws.

Giambri's uses imported Belgian chocolate - about 80,000 pounds in year. In the same period, the company makes more than a million chocolate-covered pretzels in 50 varieties and about 90,000 candy canes. It has shipped products as far as Mexico. Yet the Gambris still hear from customers who remember buying coconut eggs at Easter from Uncle Jim back in South Philly.

Word about Giambri's has gotten around - chronicled by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Saveur magazine, The Inquirer, and more. Last year's candy cane flavor of the year, cream cheese icing, picked via voting on the company website, www.giambris.com, made it onto Good Morning America.

(There's still time to vote for this year's flavor - the deadline is Nov. 1. The choices are blood orange, cake batter, Irish cream, cookies and cream, and strawberry-banana.)

The Giambris believe in giving back, too. They've supported area schools and have a fund-raising division. They've donated products to nursing homes and churches. They've given money to the American Cancer Society and Hurricane Sandy relief.

Even with all that, the family business award, announced at a luncheon Oct. 15, was a heady surprise. Giambri's won in the up-to-$10-million sales category. Ski Barn of Paramus, N.J., won in the over-$10-million category.

The Giambris didn't rest on their laurels for long. Even before they won the award, they were already into December holiday production.

Son David Giambri has helped with the business most of his life but this summer made it official. Having graduated with a degree in engineering, he sat down with his father and said he wanted to join the business.

"It really has been a big lift off my shoulders to know he's here and he can take some of the responsibility," the senior Giambri said.

David, whose title is assistant production manager, has his hopes and plans, as his relatives did before him.

For a couple of years, he's been waging a campaign to donate candy canes to decorate the White House Christmas tree. So far, the business has been turned down, but he's not one to give up. Winning the family business award took three tries.

The White House rejection letter? "It's a foot in the door," he said.

The company was honored a couple of years ago to have its chocolate pops served at Gov. Christie's holiday festivities at Drumthwacket. David's hope is for Giambri's to one day be a well-known brand.

Down the line, he wants a more modern factory that would be better able to accommodate the business' greatly increased production. He would like to further develop Internet sales and find new markets to introduce the family name.

"Chocolate-covered pretzels aren't big out West," he said, "but they could be."

Growing the family business is a nice problem to have, but all those additional pretzels, not to mention candy canes, caramel-filled waffles, and various barks won't make themselves.

David hardly missed a beat.

"I better have kids," he said.

rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893

@ritagiordano