Creative confections from Croghan
by Philomena Lawrence
Walking into the Croghan Candy Kitchen is like going back to the days of the old-fashioned candy shop. Customers can smell the aroma of freshly made chocolate, see and talk to the candy-maker who hand-dips the confections, and buy flavors rarely available today, such as butter rum, wintergreen, butter pecan and licorice.
The tidy little red clapboard shop on Main Street, in Croghan, off the western fringe of the Adirondack Park, is run by Jeff and Risë Roose, with occasional help from their three teenaged kids—Elaine, Spencer and Mitchell—and two part-timers who pitch in during the holidays. Jeff, a former plant superintendent at a local cheese factory, says the business started with a nudge from a friend who owned a candy store in his native Indiana and encouraged Jeff to open a similar operation. “I laughed and told him that Croghan, with less than seven hundred people, wasn’t big enough to support a candy store.” But Risë always wanted to own her own business, says Jeff, so they decided to take a chance, learning the basics from their Indiana friend and picking up the rest on the job.
Just before Halloween, in 1992, the Rooses began with twenty-five pounds of chocolate. They started production on fudge, cream-center candies and lollipops in their garage. In 2000 they relocated to downtown, and the company has grown tenfold since. Nowadays it uses sixteen thousand pounds of premium quality dark, white and milk chocolate per year, shipped from a distributor in Clifton Park, New York. The business sells candy retail and wholesale, and also handles mail and corporate orders—it has shipped candy to all fifty states, South America, Europe and Asia.
The variety of flavors Croghan Candy Kitchen can concoct are endless, says Jeff, and he welcomes custom requests, such as favors for weddings and class reunions. (The most popular favor: cows—a nod to Lewis County’s agricultural surroundings.) The shop’s shelves are laden with nut clusters, specialty candy bars, caramel squares, twenty-six kinds of hand-dipped chocolate, sixteen types of truffles and twenty-five varieties of sugar-free chocolates.
Risë, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor in several local school systems, spends evenings and weekends at the candy kitchen making all the caramel and marshmallow. She also comes up with the concepts for the unique candy, much of it Adirondack-inspired—“she’s the idea person and I’m the worker bee,” says Jeff. Some of those creative confections include Lumberjack Bars, with caramel, cashews and milk chocolate; Moose Drop Pops, a combination of chopped almonds, chocolate and caramel on a stick, originally developed for the Moose River Trading Company, in Thendara; Porcupines, with caramel and toasted coconut; and Snowstorm Bars, a mix of chocolate, caramel and marshmallow.
December is the Rooses’ busiest month. “Maple-centered chocolate is our biggest seller, and maple creams are impossible to keep in here, especially at Christmas,” says Jeff. Other holiday favorites include cordial cherries, sponge candy, peanut butter cups and Beaver Tails (chewy caramel and pecans smothered in milk chocolate). The pièce de résistance is a chocolate holiday house, gift-wrapped in a clear cake dome. The eight-inch-tall homes, which cost $19.95 each, can be custom-decorated with brightly colored wreaths, snowmen or Santa Clauses (the Watertown Daily Times ordered two hundred for its employees a few years ago).
Asked the secret of the store’s success, Jeff says, “People like to buy a local product they can see being made, in small batches, with premium chocolate. We must be doing something right. We are pretty well wiped out of any chocolate after Christmas.”
Find the Croghan Candy Kitchen (315-346-1591) at Route 812, in Croghan, New York.