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Indiana candy maker going nationwide with homemade recipes

June 13, 2018

GOSPORT, Ind. (AP) — Four ounces of homemade fudge packaged in a cardboard cup with a plastic spoon. Gourmet dog treats dipped in animal-friendly vanilla fudgy goodness.

Can one find success in business through such simple products? Oh yes.

Alyssa Rice, who never intended to open a candy store, can explain how she has become a rural candy queen.

Twenty miles northwest of Bloomington sits Gosport, a town of 800 known for the bed race conducted every year during the Lazy Days Festival in August. There’s a store on Main Street, called Nate’s Candy Jar, where Rice concocts fudge, caramels, taffy and other sugar-based confections.

The business started out small in 2009, about a decade after the Rice family raised $3,000 for new playground equipment to replace the 1950s-era swings and slides at Gosport Elementary School. How did they do it? Selling chewy caramels made from a family friend’s recipe.

From that simple school-fundraiser start has emerged a thriving small-town family business that’s selling not just handmade caramels but also fudge in the U.S. and Canada.

Rice had worked for her dad’s tarp manufacturing plant in Gosport and then left to stay home and raise her sons, who are now 25 and 26 years old. She opened the candy store so kids in town would have a place to go, a happy destination that would create lasting memories. She combined the first letters in the names of her family to spell out the store name: son Nathan, then Alyssa, then Tom, her husband, then Evan, their other son.

Rice’s fudge - flavors include chewy praline, dark chocolate caramel with sea salt, rocky road and peanut butter - can be purchased in traditional blocks, but it’s the fudge served in a cup with a spoon that’s caught the attention of connoisseurs. The dog treats have found a client base as well.

The business took a big jump forward in January. Rice and her husband, who works at Indiana University, set up a 10-by-10-foot booth in the Gourmet Food section at the sprawling Atlanta Gift Market, where thousands of invited vendors display their wares.

“People loved the Fudge in a Cup, the concept of having an individual cup that you can put the lid back on and save some for later,” Rice said. On a lark, she gave one of the show organizers a container of Fido Fudge and the woman returned the next day to say her dog had gobbled up the treats.

“Before we opened up the next day, she came up and told us to bring those dog treats to the front,” she said. “We were a big hit and were getting orders like crazy.”

Suddenly, Rice had more than 100 new wholesale customers. And lots of orders to fill, including shipments to the 32 upscale Von Maur department stores across the country. “It’s really exciting to be in a store with that kind of quality and reputation,” Rice said. “And we’re in two sections of the Dollywood theme park.”

Closer to home, check the shelves at Babbs supermarket or the Dragonfly Gallery in Spencer. In Bloomington, you can find Nate’s Candy Jar fudge at Lucky’s Market.

After years of small-town retail sales and traveling the Midwest county fair and festival circuits, the response from the Atlanta vendor market caught the tiny business by surprise. Things got a bit crazy there at Nate’s Candy Jar. Atlanta’s HIS Radio morning show disc jockeys ate the fudge on air and declared it delicious and in need of a bigger spoon.

“When I got back from Atlanta, we were just flooded with orders, so I made calls and recruited friends and family, and had them come and help me for several weeks. We got the orders out,” Rice said, “and learned a whole lot about shipping.”

The store sent out about 3,000 individual servings of fudge, spoon attached, before Rice could take stock and figure out how to transition - fast - from a small retail outlet to a wholesale manufacturer. She has since hired two full-time and two part-time employees to help out.

“We’re ready for big orders now,” she said. And whatever comes next.

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Source: The Herald-Times

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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