Success Stories - Sweet Spot Chocolate Shop
ArtsLife, Wednesday, February 25, 2009, p. E1
The joy of chocolate; Elmsdale couple turns their garden business into Sweet Spot for chocolate and candy
NANCY AND GREG McTiernan still take deliveries by the pallet, but now they're stacked with sugar instead of sheep manure.
The McTiernans used to run a garden centre in Elmsdale, about 10 kilometres from their farm. Still in business on the same site, they now own the Sweet Spot Chocolate Shop.
"The concept came to us five years ago," Greg said. "We didn't tell anybody. We just sort of planned it. We added ice cream to our mix (at the garden centre) after a few years and, all of a sudden, all these people were coming in, families and whatever. So we wanted to add something else that they could buy."
Fudge, they thought. That should be easy. As it turned out, not really.
"I was ruining more batches than I was selling, but every time I brought fudge in, it would sell immediately," Nancy said of her initial efforts.
"It wasn't going good, but I wanted to learn how to make it in bigger batches, with a machine. I called up a guy, . . . but he wouldn't sell me the machine. He said, 'I won't sell it to you. You're just going to spend a lot of money, get frustrated and quit.' "
The salesman told her that if she went to candy-making school and really learned the skills, he would be happy to make the sale. At first, Greg was upset with that attitude, but after about six months, he came around and both McTiernans signed up for training.
They won't reveal where they went for their training, other than to say "away," and that it takes three flights and all day to get there.
"It's a trade secret," Greg said. "Being a candy maker is a little like being a magician. You don't share secrets about how you do things. Our formula is all in code."
Wherever the school is, every student gets a personal instructor, so the training is interesting, intense and expensive.
"To be honest, the only reason I was going was to learn how to make fudge," Greg said. "I had no intention at that point of opening a candy store. We just wanted to add fudge to the ice cream and the garden centre. It wasn't until the plane ride home that we started talking about making candy."
At first, the couple thought they would make one special candy item to go with the fudge, maybe mint patties or nut clusters. They now make more than 100 different pieces, and recently finished an expansion that made their store and cooking area twice as big. There's a motorized sorting table, a vat where 200-pound batches of milk chocolate are made and a 50-pound vat for dark chocolate. Caramel and marshmallow are made from scratch.
"We couldn't meet the demand in the kitchen space that we had," said Greg, who along with Nancy arrives at 7:30 in the morning and stays in the shop until 5 or 6 p.m.
"If we don't work 70 hours a week, we get bored."
The couple has been married for 16 years, working together for most of that time. Nancy is the better of the two at not letting work-related arguments spill over into their home life, and they take ballroom dancing lessons together every week.
Running a candy shop is just as much work as owning a garden centre, they said, but with much less heavy lifting. And business is less cyclical.
"There are 17 chocolate holidays," Greg said. "Mother's Day. Secretary's Day. Christmas is a huge one. Valentine's Day. Teacher's presents (are) a big thing."
One of the Sweet Spot's customers lives in New Jersey but visits the area three or four times a year and comes into the shop every time.
About three-quarters of their customers are women and they're more discerning.
"Guys come in for holidays," said Greg. " 'Just give me something. Keep me out of trouble.' "
Another customer, Anita Scott, lives in Hammonds Plains but works in Elmsdale, which is fortunate, she said, because she never has to go too long without her favourite treats.
"It's the best chocolate. I've had chocolate at a few other places, but 2 this is my favourite," she said as she looked over the displays.
"My sister had a baby, and I wanted to give her a box of those (peanut butter nut clusters) because I love them. Whenever I come in, I get something for myself. But I don't tell my husband how often I come in because he'd want something, too."
'Being a candy maker is a little like being a magician. You don't share secrets about how you do things. Our formula is all in code.'
© 2009 The Chronicle-Herald - Halifax ; CEDROM-SNi inc.
Date of Issue: 2009-06-09