When David and Janet Jones decided to open up a candy shop in the Alpine village of Helen in the early '70s, neither had business experience nor did they know much about making candy; David worked in the construction industry and Janet was looking for a job. But nearly 45 years later, Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen has long outgrown its original location and is now a favorite stop among tourists and the locals.
"Our origin as a candy business was one of those strange little quirks that occur in life," says David Jones. "My wife Janet and I had moved to Helen in late June 1973. My parents had a farm nearby, and we thought the idea of our getting involved in the relatively new and small tourist village was a romantic idea. Hansel & Gretel is the longest continuous proprietorship in our village, now in our 44th year."
Two weeks after moving to the Georgia town, a woman called Jones' father to let him know about two shops that were available to rent. One went to a candle maker; the Jones decided to buy the adjoining tiny 18' x 13' space to sell candy, cashing in their tickets for an anniversary trip to Jamaica to secure the $550 needed for rent and to purchase equipment. "We got started and knew nothing," he recalls. "But we were willing to learn. Eventually we started making peanut brittle in our home to sell in the store. We bought a fudge kettle to make fudge, and we continued to keep our eyes open for other ideas. And ideas did come."
In 1979, the shop expanded into a new, larger location and decided to demonstrate candy making in front of customers. It was a hit, and today the shop features a room where visitors can see chocolate being made. In 2005 a second location was opened to expand candy production further, and is now the business' chocolate factory and retail store. The entire production space encompasses over 5,000 square feet.
Everything sold at Hansel & Gretel is handmade, from the dipped chocolate-covered cherries to the whipped cream caramel that coats the candy apples. The shop makes an assortment of turtles, caramels, fudge, chocolates, truffles, pecan logs, gourmet chocolate bark, and more. Shoppers will also find taffies, fruit jellies, gourmet popcorn, and sugar-free chocolate selections. There are also several gift packages available for Valentine's Day, birthdays, Easter, Christmas and any other occasion.
Besides being one of the first retailers in Helen to stay open in the evenings, one of the factors that sets the candy store apart is the fact that everything is freshly made with real ingredients. "We make our products using real chocolate, not the similar-looking produce made with cocoa and vegetable oil," says Jones. "Cocoa butter is the first thing folks smell in our stores. Additionally we make a product right in the stores; we aren't a place that buys things from overseas and sells them."
The guy that once worked staining beams and doing other odd jobs on a construction site is now the author of the book Candy Making for Dummies and also served as the president of the prestigious Retail Confectioners International (RCI) from 2009 to 2010. For the Jones, taking the chance on launching a business turned into something sweet indeed.