Such a sweet deal
|Susan McCurdy dips chocolates with the help of her chocolate dipping machine that is 20 years old.|
Susan McCurdy has been making candy for a very long time. And to prove it she points to two machines.
One is the chocolate dipping machine. It is a square box with a light bulb in it and on the top is a bowl that circulates melted chocolate.
"It's called a dipping machine," she says as she puts a cream filling into the molten brown liquid that flows in the bowl of the machine. "But actually the chocolates are dipped by hands. The machine just keeps the chocolate at the proper temperature."
The other machine stacked on a table behind is her newest acquisition; a sucker machine. She bought it last year, made 2000 suckers and it broke down.
"When I had a guy come out to look at it he told me the O rings were gone so we had it overhauled," she says. "The problem is that even at that breakdown rate it still saves a great deal of time by using it rather than creating suckers by hand."
As the owner of Suzie's Candy Shop on south Carbon Avenue, "Suzie" as she is known to many people began in the candy business almost as a hobby and then it grew.
And grew and grew.
When her husband took a job with the power industry and brought her to Price for the first time she thought she had ventured into a cultural void.
"He took me up north of town and the subdivision we were looking in only had two houses," he relates as she dips more chocolates. "All I could see were those two houses and the desert and sage brush beyond. I didn't know what to think."
Being from Cleveland, Ohio she misses the green of the midwest, but now she wouldn't live anywhere else.
"My mother still doesn't understand why we want to live here, but we raised our kids here and it is a great place," she states.
Her venture into candy making began not long after that move. She decided she wanted to start making candy for the family so she bought every book she could find and today has a large library of candy making books.
"And I have read every one of them," she says.
She found a supplier in Salt Lake to buy supplies from and began experimenting. One of the first things she wanted to do was to created molded chocolate figures with the candy paintings on them. She poured the mold and then began to try and paint the candy on them. It wouldn't work at all.
""I called the supplier and told him it wasn't working and he started to laugh," she said, knowing now what she didn't know then. "After he got through laughing he told me that I needed to paint the candy into the molds and then pour the chocolate."
She created her first batches and one night she took these molded chocolates to her husband while he was doing some ammunition reloading. He looked at them and asked her how she got them that way. She left them for him to eat.
"A few days later I was at home and I got this call from the power plant," she says. "It was one of the secretaries and she said 'I have a few orders for you.' At first I didn't understand what she meant and then I realized that my husband had taken the candy to work and everybody wanted some."
That was the beginning of the actual business. Soon she was making candy for many people she knew and some she didn't.
"My daughter who works up at Primary Childrens Hospital as a nurse started taking the candy to work, and soon all the doctors were ordering candy from me," she says. "They buy from me- to this day."
She is not exactly sure when the space at home became too limited too pursue the candy business, but there came a time when it just couldn't be done anymore. During holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentines and Easter, her kitchen and most of her house had candy sitting around and candy getting ready to be made everywhere. But one of her customers, a realtor, came to her rescue.
"She told me she had the perfect house on Carbon Avenue for a candy store, but I kept telling her I couldn't afford it," says Susan. "But she kept after me and when we found this place I could see the possibilities. But I still wasn't sure."
Finally she took the plunge and one day her husband came home from work and she declared, "I bought a house."
The place was run down and needed a lot of work, just to get it into shape much less turn it into a viable business place. Again she had her doubts, but her daughter and son-in-law convinced her to try and sell out of the location just before one of the major holidays.
"We just opened up the front room and put up a sign," she says. "My son-in-law stood out on the street waving people in. We did $500 worth of business in two days and they said 'See it will work. You'll make money.' I was convinced."
That was a little over four years ago and each year the business grows a little larger.
"Last year for the first time I made enough money to pay all my charges," says Susan.
Susan's conservative approach to making leaps that may or may not work also applies to her making of the candy. She remains committed to keeping the home style approach to making candy, and also regards quality as her number one goal in making her business run. Just like in every venture nowadays, the technology changes, like in the case of the lollipop machine. But some things remain the same.
"The key to great candy is the using top quality products," she says. "If an item sits on the shelf more than two or three months it is too old to use."
Her commitment to fresh product makes it so she often works on a "just in time" process line. While all the products are important, chocolate is one of the ingredients that must be just right.
"We use only the best chocolate we can find," she says. "Good candy demands it."
While chocolates are not her only candy, in fact much of her business is in other kinds of candy, it still remains some of her most popular. Christmas, Easter and Valentines are big chocolate times.
"Around the holidays we get really crazy around here," she says. "Take last Christmas for example. The 9-11 thing really took it's toll on everyone. Our sales were way down and about two weeks before the holidays I thought we were going to go out of business. Suddenly, I don't know what happened but our sales took off. The hour before we closed a few days before Christmas I only had three chocolates left in a pan back here. Not three boxes, three chocolates."
The store makes much of it's money out of it's store front, but benefit sales and custom orders also garner the business cash flow.
"We do a lot of benefits with the schools around here," says Susan. "We sell them candy that they then resell for a higher rate to make money for their projects."
One of the best times for that is around Halloween.
Corporate custom sales are also getting better all the time.
"Last year Fairmont Supply came to me and asked if we could do a special chocolate logo for their company," she relates. "I had a mold made, we poured it, and it looked just like their logo. We had some special boxes made and they sent them all over the place."
During the busy times the candy store and manufacturing business is not a huge employer, but it does provide work for a couple of people besides Susan.
"One of the problems is that if we get too many people back here we run into each other," she says. "When we are busy some come in on off hours like the evening and weekends."
Like any business there are good times and not so good of times. Susan closes the store for the months of June, July and August each year because "the candy business is very slow then."
The candy has been a labor of love for Susan. Not "having seen a paycheck yet" seems to matter little to her. It is truly a labor of love.
"My support has come from my family, particularly my husband," she says. "At one time I was doing both candy and catering at the same time and I picked candy because I enjoyed it so much."
She also credits very fine employees for helping her build the business.
"Sometimes you get one that doesn't care, but I have been very lucky," she says.
The remodeling of the house so that it could be a proper candy store took over a year. At one point her son-in-law took apart a wall and all the plaster behind the wallboard collapsed. He thought he had destroyed the kitchen.
"My poor son-in-law," she states. "He has been just wonderful."
But eventually it evolved into a bright and airy room that has wonderful things going on inside it. Unlike some food preparation areas, this facilily has a wonderful odor present.
"I never get tired of the odor of making candy," says Susan. "But about the end of a holiday season we are just about selecting straws on who will taste the final batches."
Susan admits working with candy can be tempting, but after a while everyone gets to the point where they don't eat it regularly, particularly during very busy times.
Susan has tried to expand her business to other areas. A nursery in Huntington sells some of her candy and not too long ago a man who owns a string of convenience stores came in and told her he wanted to sell her candy in his stores.
"But he said I had to go through a distributor who supplied his business, so I did," relates Susan concerning the failed attempt. "Problem was that it got in the stores, and it was selling, but the distributor didn't pay me for what I sold him. So I went down to the the stores that had it and pulled it out."
The company also has a website and has made a few sales that way, but the competition is great.
"We are making some changes on that site (www. susiescandyshop.com) so it is more appealing," she states.
The prices that the shop charges for hand dipped chocolates and other confections is very competitive with commercial candies, even those sold by big candy stores in Salt Lake.
"In fact when they sell a pound it is a standard 16 ounces," says Susan. "Mine weighs in at 19 ounces. We just want people to get a little more from us."
A real value with quality included. Kind of like a baker's dozen; candy style.