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Rural Missouri Magazine

A sweet tradition
The Boysters carry on a family legacy at Rosewood Farms

by Jarrett Medlin
Melody Boyster decorates chocolate candies in the basement of Rosewood Farms Country Gifts near Hartville while her husband, John, watches. The Boysters carry on a tradition began by John's grandfather, handmaking chocolate, which they sell as Grandpa Joe's Old Fashioned Candy.

The tradition began on a whim. In 1948, Joe Hawkins, a postal worker from Arizona, moved his family to California for two months to attend a candy making school. Having never seen the ocean before, his kids played on the sands of Long Beach while Joe learned the art of making chocolate.

After eight weeks, the family returned to Arizona and Joe went back to delivering mail. But after work each night, he washed up and put on a white apron before going to the kitchen. There, covered in flour and fudge, he experimented for hours with sweet concoctions, recording his recipes in a journal. In time, he taught his children and grandchildren the secret recipes.

Joe dreamed of the day he could open his own candy shop with his family. Unfortunately, he never saw that vision become a reality.

More than 50 years later, Joe’s grandson is living his grandfather’s dream. Today, John and Melody Boyster make and sell “Grandpa Joe’s Old Fashioned Candy” at Rosewood Farms Country Gifts, a store nestled in the Ozark hills, 6 miles north of Hartville.

The comforting smells of freshly cooked chocolate and scented candles fill your nose when you enter the door. Soothing mountain music plays overhead, and a friendly face is always waiting to greet you.

Joe Hawkins, known to the family as “Grandpa Joe,” started the chocolate tradition in the 1940s. Tody, John and Melody are carrying on a family tradition, passing on the skills to their own children.

“When customers walk through that door, we want to make sure it’s worth their drive,” says John.

From candy to coffee, candles to crafts, nearly everything in the store is handmade by the Boysters. John carves the wooden crafts. Melody molds an array of scented candles. Their daughter, Holly, prepares coffee and frozen drinks. And the entire family pitches in to make a wide assortment of chocolate candies.

“The candy’s made the way candy used to be made,” he says. “It’s like no chocolate you’ve ever tasted.”

Every piece of chocolate is created from high-quality ingredients and sold fresh. Like his grandfather, John is particular about his candy. He almost never allows guests in his kitchen, and no one but the family knows Grandpa Joe’s recipes.

“This candymaking isn’t something you can just read out of a book and do in your kitchen,” says John. “It took us six solid months to get it where we figured we could sell it.”

Rosewood Farms Country Gifts, housed in a 4,000-square-foot building, offers a wide range of homemade gifts and treats.

In truth, the candy was much longer in the making. Before opening the store in 2001, John and Melody lived in Mesa, Ariz. John grew up on a dairy farm while Melody was from the city. The high school sweethearts were married after graduation and began their own dairy operation. At the time, John drove a truck with an Arizona license plate that read “MILK.” Today, that plate is displayed among other family memorabilia on a table in one of the store’s rooms.

A dairy farmer’s income is never stable, so the Boysters began making and selling wooden crafts on the side to earn extra money for Christmas.

“It just kept snowballing from there,” says John.

In 1990, the Boysters sold their farm and went into woodworking full-time. They traveled the West, often staying away from home for weeks at a time. Some days, they worked for 19 straight hours.

“At times, we’d work clear through the night and right into morning,” says Melody.

Finally, John and Melody decided to move to Missouri in 1998 to open their own business. They searched much of southwest Missouri for a place to build before stopping at the store’s current site.

“It was the last place we looked,” says John. “When we pulled in the driveway, we both looked at each other and said this is where we’re gonna build.”

A sign reading “Live well, laugh often, love much” is appropriate for the Boysters’ approach to life.

They built a 4,000-square-foot building and named their new business “Rosewood Farms,” after the roses Melody often painted on John’s woodworking crafts. Though the building sits 30 minutes from a major highway, the Laclede Electric Cooperative members say their rural location helps create a relaxed, enjoyable experience.

“We have people who will come in after a stressful day, and they’ll enjoy a coffee and some chocolates,” says John. “There’s a peace of mind when you walk in that door.”

After living in a city for years, Melody also appreciates the rural setting. “There’s a slower pace of life, and there’s real good people here,” she says.

The Boysters, who rarely advertise, rely on those people to spread word about the store. Usually, locals are anxious to tell others about the store after a single visit.

Jacklyn Shaffer of Norwood, a town 45 minutes away, found out about the store from her cousin. Now, she’s a frequent customer.

“It’s definitely worth the drive,” she says. “Every time I get extra money, I treat myself by going there.”

Vicki Yeary of Ava sniffs one of the homemade candles in the store. Melody makes the candles in a small building behind the store.

During the store’s Christmas Open House, which will be held Nov. 6-11 this year, nearly 4,000 people from all over the United States make the trip. At the event, the Boysters serve homemade fudge, cookies and hot cider while customers shop.

It takes a concentrated effort from the entire Boyster family to provide enough food for so many people. John, Melody and their four children often work late into the night to prepare chocolate and keep up with the demand. Still, they often sell out.

“We just hope no one travels four or five hours from another state only to find we’ve run out of chocolate,” says Melody. “Luckily, that hasn’t happened.”

At the end of a long day, it’s the customers who really make John and Melody’s job so rewarding.

“When they leave that door, they tell you thank you — thank you for being here, thank you for the candy and thank you for taking care of us,” says John. “That’s pretty special.”

Working together has long been the cornerstone of the Boysters’ business. Back when the family was still running a dairy farm and woodworking on the side, the children often pitched in.

Melody fills a pastry bag with rich, dark chocolate from a machine in the store’s basement.

Today, Holly, the Boysters’ oldest daughter and a former teacher, works full-time at the store. She runs the cash register, serves hot and frozen coffee drinks and maintains the Rosewood Farms’ Web site.

Jessica, John and Melody’s youngest daughter who still attends high school, also hopes to work at the store soon. As the business grows, the couple plans to bring in more of their children.

John, who still recalls fond childhood memories of eating homemade chocolate as a reward for sitting still while his grandfather gave him buzz haircuts, believes strongly in carrying on a family legacy. Leaving the business to his children and continuing the tradition that began with Grandpa Joe is important to John.

“We want to make sure the chocolate part is passed on,” he says. “All of the kids have a love for it, and that’s what is really neat.”

Rosewood Farms Country Gifts is located 30 miles south of Lebanon on Highway 5. The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can call Rosewood Farms at (417) 741-6915 or visit the Boyster's Web site at www.grandpajoeschocolates.com.

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