Life on the Farm. Click here to find out how a new mower turned a chore into a pleasure.

Rural Missouri Magazine

Candy Concoctions
The Candy House sells tasty treats in southwest Missouri

by Jarrett Medlin
A Candy House employee weighs candy for a customer at the original store in Redings Mill. The store first opened in 1970.

Taffy, truffles, toffee, divinity. Caramels, peanut brittle, cherry cordials, chocolate nut clusters. Dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, sugar-free chocolate.

Terry Hicklin knows them all. He knows no recipes are more finicky. He knows a degree too hot or too cold can prevent divinity from being divine and peanut brittle from being brittle. He knows every possible element — humidity, melting temperature, cocoa content, creams, milk, sugar, timing — any and every possible consideration can deter his candy from perfection. And this, he knows, is what separates Candy House Gourmet Chocolate from the competition.

“Chocolate is so much harder to make than other types of food because there are so many ways to mess it up,” he says. “It’s such a precise art.”

Apparently, Terry has found the recipe for success.

Since buying the Candy House in 1999, the business has grown 500 percent. The confectionary company now produces several hundred thousand pounds of hand-dipped chocolate each year. Besides the original Candy House location, Terry’s added three retail stores and a factory in southwest Missouri. Still, the company continues to expand.

The recipes for delicious Candy House Gourmet Chocolate hasn’t changed much over the years. The company still uses pure chocolate without additives and pays attention to even the slightest details throughout the candymaking process.

“It all goes back to quality and service,” Terry says. “We pride ourselves on our service to the customers. And we get notes every day about how great the chocolate is.”

At the Candy House Chocolate Factory in Joplin, Terry is right at home. He spends his days surrounded by kettles of chocolate, conveyer belts of candy and boxes of sweets.
Every day, he continues a never-ending quest to improve his chocolate and candy.

Terry refuses to mix in additives, which provide a longer shelf life but take away from the taste. He constantly refines old recipes and tweaks new ones. Caramel apples, chocolate-covered strawberries, the Missouri Walking Stick (a pretzel rod dipped in caramel, rolled in pecans and drizzled in milk, white and dark chocolate), and heart-healthy chocolates are just a few of the bestselling products he’s added over the years. That’s in addition to the original recipes.

“I still don’t think there’s any better English toffee in the world — or caramels,” he says. “If you take a good center and coat it with good chocolate, you’re going to have success.”

After buying the Candy House in 1999, owner Terry Hicklin helped the business grow by 500 percent. Besides the original store in Redings Mill, the company now includes four retail locations, a factory and a partnership with Sam’s Club stores throughout southwest Missouri.

Terry ensures every person who walks through the door at one of his shops is met with a smile and a sample of his locally renowned, hand-dipped chocolate.

“A lot of our decisions have come from listening to customers,” he says.

These decisions have helped the Candy House come a long way over the past three decades.

Before Terry ever thought about candymaking, there was Richardson’s Candy House. In 1970, Don and Peggy Richardson opened the original candy house in a two-story white-rock building in Redings Mill, a village five miles south of Joplin. Peggy’s mother, Dolly Smith, had owned chocolate companies in Florida and drove up to Missouri while in her ’80s to teach them the recipes. Where she got those recipes, the same ones used today, Terry doesn’t know.

For the next 30 years, the company remained pretty much the same. Every batch was hand-stirred by the owners in a 12-pound amount. The Richardsons never hired a full-time production person despite a booming business. Finally, the family sold the Candy House in 1994. Five years later, it was back on the market.

In 1999, Terry was looking to leave his job as a food broker and run a fishing resort in Branson. He would have spent his golden years stringing poles, fixing toilets and doing maintenance on cabins.

“That would have been the worst mistake of my life because I’m not a handyman,” he says. “I literally would have been a fish out of water.”

Emily Thulleson gazes at the many varieties of chocolate in the storefront at the Candy House Chocolate Factory in Joplin.

Instead, the deal fell through and Terry found himself scanning the classified section of the Springfield News-Leader. That’s when he saw it: “FOR SALE — CONFECTIONARY COMPANY IN THE GROSS.”

“I told my wife, Pat, ‘Something’s wrong. This is making money,’” he recalls. The next day, the Hicklins drove to Redings Mill to see Richardson’s Candy House for themselves. Three days later, they signed a contract and became the new owners.

Terry was overwhelmed during the first year. The homemade chocolate required long hours of stirring and standing over hot kettles. On top of it, he didn’t understand the chemistry of candy.

“I’d bought the recipes, but I had no idea how they worked,” he says. “Getting into it, I had no idea what a precise science it is.”

So Terry decided to go back to school — candy school. He signed up for a 15-day school in Erie, Penn., sponsored by Retail Confectioners International, an organization consisting of more than 400 chocolate and candy retailers around the nation. The organization hosts the schools only once every two years and accepts just 24 students.

That year, Terry was fortunate enough to be selected and learn from the top candymakers in the United States and England. At the school, he spent three days learning about the chemistry of everything from candy canes to creams, before moving on to the cooking process and equipment.

When Terry returned to Missouri, he had a vision. While still using the original recipes, he bought two automated kettles and a chocolate enrober that made the process six times faster. A year later, he opened a store in Carthage, then in Springfield. Finally, in 2004, the Hicklins built the Candy House Chocolate Factory in Joplin, where demand has already outgrown supply.

Workers at the Candy House Chocolate Factory place chocolate in boxes as the product travels along an enrober.

“We have more room for cooking, but we could use twice as much space for storage,” he says.

Much of the Candy House’s recent growth is due to orders from corporate clients, including Sam’s Club. The lucrative partnership with the warehouse retail chain came about when a food buyer tasted the chocolate during a road show in 2004.

“The buyer said it’s the best chocolate he’s ever tasted,” says Terry. “And he’s tried candy from all over the world.”

The buyer suggested selling the chocolate on the company’s Web site, www.samsclub.com. Terry wisely took his advice and online sales have doubled over the past two years.

“We currently have as much, if not more, going out the back door as the front door,” he says. “People are here from 6:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night. It’s a great tribute to the product.”

As for the future, Terry predicts even sweeter days. “I don’t see anything but an increase in customer quality and service,” he says with a generous smile.

To learn more, call (417) 623-7171 or visit www.candyhouse.net.

Rural Missouri Magazine Digital Edition
2014 Missouri Snapshots Photo Contest
 
Rural Missouri Merchandise Out of the Way Eats Subscribe to Rural Missouri Rural Missouri Prints Store

Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri's Facebook Page Rural Missouri's YouTube Channel Subscribe to Rural Missouri's RSS Feed Rural Missouri | Pinterest