story by ELIZABETH GRANGER
It was 2020. Like so many others, David Gilbert found himself at home much of the time. And more than a little bored. So he learned how to make hard candies. And then he and his wife Jennifer put together a jigsaw puzzle of an old- fashioned candy shop. Their daughter stood looking at it and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we opened a candy store?” So they did. In December 2020 it opened for pick-up.
Gilbert’s Candy & Confections, in Chesterton, is now a brick-and-mortar store that offers a variety of items not found in many stores. There are the Gilberts’ handmade chocolate bars in a variety of flavors that include the root beer float bar and dark chocolate coffee bar, along with freeze-dried Skittles called Freetles. There are also not-so- typical items that include CrackCorn, Hammond’s bars, and Endorfin Foods. Kids’ candy is vetted by the Gilberts’ kids; think juvenile humor that means Sour Flush and Shark Bite. Dog treats are taste-tested by Wyatt, the family dog.
“We gravitate toward nostalgia,” David said. There are circus peanuts, Necco wafers, Charleston Chews. Many items have been suggested by customers.
Free samples are available. So, too, is a spinning wheel challenge called Bean Boozled with which customers take a chance. They’ll get one of two flavors of jelly beans – for example, peach or barf, juicy pear or booger, tutti-fruitti or stinky socks – and not know which flavor until they taste it. Jennifer says the not- so-tasty flavors are “terrible.” And yet, spinning the wheel is wildly popular.
“No matter what’s going on in the world, chocolate makes things a little better,” she adds.
McCord’s Candies in Lafayette, a city staple for decades, echoes that sentiment. Owners Angie and Billie Pattengale – new owners as of June 2022 – say their mission is “serving smiles.” Here, a trip down memory lane includes McCord’s hand-pulled candy canes during the holiday season.
Candy canes are big at Martinsville Candy Kitchen, too. Candy cane pour times in November and December are gotta’-go-to events.
Another favorite with more than a century of history is Tell City Pretzels. It, too, underwent changes in ownership, in 2009; and in location, just last year. The age-old recipe moved from Tell City to Jasper, where they added a pretzel- twisting machine as well as soft pretzels in the new Pretzelville lineup. When the holidays approach, there are chocolate- covered pretzels in red canisters.
The pretzel factory is open to the public, with tours that invite everyone to hand-twist a couple pretzels like they did in the past. It’s called the “tour, taste and twist experience.” “It’s been hugely successful,” says owner Brad Smith.
Another venture with more than a century of history is Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville. See candy-making demonstrations as well as a candy museum. It’s like stepping back in time with the 1950s original soda fountain and old school candy jars. Take time for a tour. And check out their signature Cinnamon Red Hots.
In Hagerstown, the newness at Abbott’s Candies is the bright pink paint. The caramels and chocolates are the tried- and-true originals, beginning with William C. Abbott in 1890. Even the boxes retain the look of the past – because customers complained when Abbott’s tried to “update” them. “We’ll change our boxes when Coca-Cola changes the shape of its bottles,” says Jay Noel, owner since 2012.
The high point of a visit is a tour, especially of the pouring, cutting and wrapping of caramels. There’s even a candle that smells like caramels. A worker puts a stylish “A” for Abbott, by hand, on each piece of chocolate.
An “A” also goes on the belly of each gummi bear at Albanese Candy in Merrillville. On gummi worms, too, and jet fighters and sharks and … well, all of them. Crazy-popular are holiday gummies.
In Portland, a candy shop is centered around the fudge made by Sharlette Cole’s family when she was a child. “That’s what we did on the farm, in the wintertime, for entertainment,” she says. Malted milk balls and double-dipped peanuts are the biggest candy sellers at Sharlette’s Fudgery and Candies. With fudge, it’s chocolate/peanut butter. With cookies, sugar cookies.
Then there’s South Bend, home to Notre Dame University as well as the company that got its start making chocolates for the school. The South Bend Chocolate Company has been recognized as the fastest growing chocolate company in the nation with outlets not only in the Hoosier state but elsewhere. There’s a lively history lesson in the tours here that include … well, … chocolate surprises.
In Madison, Cocoa Safari Chocolates is an independent gourmet chocolate shop where they create chocolates and confections in their on-site kitchen. Each one is hand-dipped and hand-decorated. Small batches ensure the freshest available using premium quality chocolate and ingredients.
Growing up in a family deeply involved in the confectionery arts, Cathy Brand-Beere began working with chocolate at the age of eight. She always loved the creative process of making fine chocolates and dreamt of opening a “real chocolate shop” when she grew up. While in high school, she baked and sold custom designed wedding cakes as a summer job, and it was her passion for confectionery arts (particularly chocolate) that led her to start DeBrand Fine Chocolates in October of 1987. Today, DeBrand Fine Chocolates offers three locations, two in Fort Wayne and one in Indianapolis at The Shops at River Crossing. They create world-class, artisan chocolates with the highest quality, fresh ingredients, found locally and from around the world. Outstanding chocolates, beautiful presentation, and excellent customer service have been their foundation for over thirty years.
Even more possibilities are listed on the Indiana Foodways Alliance “Sweet Temptations” trail. There are 51 suggested stops that include Ghyslain in Union City, Wolf’s Fine Handmade Chocolates in Attica, Charlie’s Caramel Corn and Candy Shop in Vincennes.
A newbie is Uranus Fudge Factory in Anderson. An off-the-wall nobody-knows- what-to-expect kind of entertainment venue that leads with fudge but includes dinosaurs, Zoltar the fortune teller, and – on the drawing board – a pollinator park.
Another sweet trail to check out is the “Coffee and Sweets Trail” in northwest Indiana, which includes local coffee and sweets shops near the Indiana Dunes National and State Parks. Each participating shop created a special Indiana Dunes-themed drink for customers to enjoy.
Also on the Sweet Temptations Trail is Indiana’s own Wick’s Pies. Headquartered in Winchester, Wick’s has been making sweet treats—including their famous Sugar Cream Pie—for well over 70 years. Today, you can visit their full service bakery cafe that makes 36 varieties of pie each day.