So far this year, I've done a lot of interviews, ranging from Emmy Award winning composers to Emmy Award winning choreographers, and I've had a blast doing them all. I enjoy having positive things to talk about.
What's a more positive thing to talk about than candy! Am I right? We're a few days from Halloween, when those cute little youngsters will go through the same process that I went through, having to dress up in their favorite superhero or Barbie costume, with a nice little decorated bag or pumpkin pale, collecting a few dozen of their favorite treats that they will savor for the rest of the night and weeks on end.
So now, I would like to introduce you to the lovely Vanessa Hughes, who worked behind the scenes at ABC for several years, and whose dream has now been realized. That dream is actually owning her own very special candy shop that carries surprisingly healthy candy for a change. "A Real Treat" Candy Boutique, which had its' official grand opening today in Santa Monica, California, is one of those special places that will remind many of the old mom and pop candy shops they used to see in every town or city when they were growing up. I know I personally still remember those because they were very dear to me, and the allure of candy when you're little just simply dominates you.
During this special "sweet" interview with Vanessa, she talks about what made her decide to open a candy store, the thought process behind it and what they hope to achieve for the stores' future. So grab a piece of your favorite candy and then read on.
Please tell the readers about yourself.
VH: Those who know me know how much I adore candy. If you take me to a store and there is candy there, I will be checking it out. The Candy Blog is one of my bookmarks. If I am in a new city I will always search reviews for the best candy store and seek out regional candy favorites. I didn’t want to be a kid in a candy store – I wanted to own that candy store!
I began my career in daytime television and shifted to healthcare marketing communications, with a short hiatus to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter and complete my masters and credential in special education. I have had many experiences throughout my eclectic 14-year career and there was candy in every desk, backpack, purse and diaper bag that was with me on these journeys.
Let’s talk about your candy boutique that is opening Sunday, “A Real Treat”.
Please tell the readers about your store and why you decided to open one.
VH: It all started in the spring of 2013 when my husband suggested we find more “natural” candy options for our four-year old daughter. Well, actually, it all began in the 1980’s in New York, when I would save my weekly allowance for the days my mom took me to The Cache Pot, our neighborhood candy store. I still remember everything about the store – the barrels of candy tucked tightly together on the shelves, the creak of the screen door when we walked in and the bliss I found in my favorite candy treats. My daughter inherited a lot from me, including my love of candy. I am a true believer that what I ate during my pregnancy can be seen in her tastes, as she LOVES sour candy, chewy candy, licorice and basically any other candy she can get her hands on. When my husband asked me that day to join him in looking for natural candy options that were free of artificial flavors, artificial colors/dyes and high fructose corn syrup, I immediately opened my web browser to find the nearest store. But there was no nearest store. You know that song, “I Want Candy”? It should be called “I Want Candy Now!” When we want candy, we want candy. It could be a craving or passing by a fun candy shop. To be 100 percent honest, I had low expectations of the candy. Four days later, when I had my first bite, it was delicious! All of the candy received two thumbs up from my taste testers both big and small. But I was left wondering what would happen when we ran out of the candy?
And so, in the spring of 2013, the concept for a candy boutique called A Real Treat™ was born.
You worked on daytime television behind the scenes for 14 years so why open a candy store now?
VH: The epiphany of discovering all-natural candy that actually tasted delicious was enough motivation to start me on my journey. Plus candy just makes people happy, so who wouldn’t want to go to work all day and make people happy?
I was reading on your site that your candy is all natural. Do you feel that it was important to produce something that not only will satisfy the normal candy eater, but also have some effect healthwise in a positive way without all the added extras that all candy companies add to their product?
VH: First wanted to make sure your readers know that at this time, we aren't producing any of our own candy at A Real Treat. I am proud to say that we will be carrying candy from artisan and specialty candy makers from small and large cities across the United States. These folks are candy magicians to me - it is as if they have taken the candy we see on shelves at the supermarket and candy stores, waved a wand that takes out all the stuff we don't want, and abracadabra, created candy that actually tastes even better and that you can feel better about.
I have heard folks refer to the candy we carry as "non-toxic" or "clean." Food topics such as corn syrup, organics, non-GMO, food dyes and allergens are prominent these days, especially among parents. I can only speak for myself in saying that this is candy I can feel better about - both for myself and my family. The fact that it is not only better, but delicious is a major bonus!
What will be the candy that you will be the highlight that you think people will go crazy for in your store the most?
VH: I think many folks will gravitate toward the "pick 'n mix" candy. I love the idea of taking a little bit of this, maybe some of that and a couple of those. Sometimes I might want one bag of a single type of candy, but when I go into a store with bins full of candy, I am grabbing a bag and a scoop no matter what.
Is there one particular candy that you’re going to sell that stands out for you personally and that you enjoy that you would recommend for those trying your candy for the first time?
VH: In the store, we want to "decode" the candy for our customers, as we know many of our customers have not seen our products before. We want to draw comparisons to the candy we have grown up with and match them with their all-natural equivalents. For example, one of the brands of chocolate bars that we sell is going to be make folks take a bite and say, "That tastes like a INSERT MAJOR CANDY BAR NAME…but better." And by the way, the bars are non-GMO, vegan and gluten free.
Do you feel that your store will have the variety of candy that will please your patrons?
VH: I believe we cover the full spectrum of candy cravings. Chocolates, gummies, sour candy, jelly beans, caramels, lollipops, hard candies, cotton candy, licorice and gum. And I am looking forward to hearing from our customers about other options they would love to see in the shop. I think what we have in-store right now is only the tip of the iceberg.
What else will you sell besides candy?
VH: We are sticking to candy for the immediate future. The whole concept behind A Real Treat is so new to folks that I want to have the time to talk with customers about our products, answer dietary and allergen-specific questions, and truly see and hear the awesome reactions people have when they try our candy.
So tell us about the location itself. Why did you choose it and do you feel the area is perfect for what you are trying to accomplish personally with your store?
VH: We are a true mom-and-pop shop. Even our four-year old is getting in on the act. She has her own A Real Treat t-shirt and can't wait to start helping folks with their candy. Santa Monica, and specifically our pop-up host Books and Cookies, has a strong family core. There is a wonderful mix of families with younger and older children, and also both children and adults seeking out products to meet special dietary and food allergen needs. We hope to become a part of the community and have our core customers spread the word to family and friends in other areas of Los Angeles and beyond.
What kind of an atmosphere would you hope that your store will have that will make people keep coming back over and over again?
VH: Authentic, both in terms of our candy and our staff. We feel this candy is worth talking about and we want to take that time to talk about it with you, to help you figure out what to try based on your candy preferences and guide you to candy that people regularly tell me "tastes the way candy used to taste." When I press people to explain that, they say they can taste the watermelon flavor in a watermelon gummy ring, the blood orange in a blood orange and honey candy and the real cinnamon and chilis in an Aztec chocolate bar.
For those who don’t live in California, will you be able to handle internet orders as well?
VH: In keeping the authentic “way things used to be” personal feel of the store, we are going to start out with a small online presence in terms of internet orders. Following our opening, we will be adding more information about the wide range of products we carry at the shop. There will not be e-commerce right away, but we would love for folks outside of the Los Angeles area to call or email the store directly to place an order. We want to hear about what candy folks traditionally eat so we can help guide them to similar flavors in our candy. Our plan is to eventually move into internet orders, but for right now, email or phone is your best bet. Our promise to our customers is that they will hear back from their personal "candy concierge" within 24-36 hours of the email or call.
Let’s talk about your “Custom Candy” orders. Please tell us about how that process works and will it be available through the internet as well?
VH: Similar to the internet orders, we are going with the "candy concierge" model. Every order will be a custom order taken by phone or email - a gift basket, hostess gift, birthday present, party favors, candy bouquet - you name it. If you are hosting an organic, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, or food allergen-free event, we can provide all you will need for a candy buffet to match your vision and satisfy your guest's sweet tooth.
Your store will have special events going on. Can you please talk about those.
VH: We are thrilled to be a part of the Books and Cookies family in Santa Monica. Chudney Ross, the owner of the store, has created an ideal environment for families and we hope those coming to try our candy will join in on the concerts, classes and other awesome activities constantly taking place in Books and Cookies. One of my personal goals is to spotlight one of the artisan candy makers we feature each month and, if geography and schedules align, have someone from the company come into the store to meet and talk with our customers. I have personally talked with the owners of many of these companies on my journey to opening the shop, and it has been incredible to hear the origin stories, learn about product development and more. It would be like bringing Food Network's Unwrapped into A Real Treat!
Your slogan is “Where EVERYONE can be a kid in a candy store.” I love that and especially because it’s true and not just in a candy store BTW. Do you think that candy stores still have that aura that channels the innerchild within us that just makes you go OMG after you sample like a dozen different candies and you just feel like having more and more?
VH: I know candy stores still make me feel that way! And I can see it from the way people's eyes light up when they see the candy and taste the candy. As many have said to me along this journey, "who doesn't love candy?" And, for those who say they don't love candy, please come visit us at A Real Treat so we can see if we can change your mind!
Do you feel the store suits your personality?
VH: I believe the store brings out the kid in me, the mom in me, the wife in me, the daughter in me, the friend in me, the business woman in me and most of all, the candy lover in me. I have been telling my husband these past few months that I know who my customer is because I am my customer.
What was your favorite candy growing up?
VH: Very tough question for me. Ask me a favorite movie, a favorite song, a favorite TV show and I'd have a much easier time giving you a singular answer. Dots because I would sit next to my dad at Broadway shows and he would share his Dots with me. Three Musketeers because my Nana always hid a bag in the pantry closet of her kitchen. Nerds because my dad always told us not to eat them in the house because they would go all over the place. Skybars because the owners of our camp gave them out at special events. Licorice laces because my mom would let me tie them in knots before I ate them. I could keep going! Candy for me is linked to memories that I love, so picking one is not an easy task.
If you asked my parents what I asked for or most often chose at the candy store, I bet it would be licorice.
Was there a candy that made you hyper like a lot of kids got (myself included) while growing up?
VH: I can't remember candy making me hyper, but maybe I was blissfully unaware. My guess would be Smarties or that Lik-M-Aid/Fun Dip stuff. Those are seriously, straight-up sugar! I always asked for the Fun Dip because I thought it was the coolest thing, but I rarely got it. Maybe cause it made me crazy hyper!
A very special thanks to Vanessa Hughes for introducing me into her world of "A Real Treat". I wish you nothing but the greatest success for the store. We definitely need more mom and pop stores in the world again! Also, very special thanks to Jana Davidoff-Morrison for introducing me to this very special person. You're the best!
Please go ahead and visit "A Real Treat's" official website for more info on the store Vanessa's Candy Blog and placing your orders for her delicious candy at http://www.arealtreat.com/
Here's a Real Treat Candy Boutique's history summary:
"It all started in the spring of 2013 when my husband suggested we find more “natural” candy options for our four-year old daughter. Well, actually, it all began in the 1980’s in New York, when I would save my weekly allowance for the days my mom took me to The Cache Pot, our neighborhood candy store. I still remember everything about the store – the barrels of candy tucked tightly together on the shelves, the creak of the screen door when we walked in and the bliss I found in my favorite candy treats.
My daughter inherited a lot from me, including my love of candy. I am a true believer that what I ate during my pregnancy can be seen in her tastes, as she LOVES sour candy, chewy candy, licorice and basically any other candy she can get her hands on. When my husband asked me that day to join him in looking for natural candy options that were free of artificial flavors, artificial colors/dyes and high fructose corn syrup, I immediately opened my web browser to find the nearest store. But there was no nearest store. You know that song, “I Want Candy”? It should be called “I Want Candy Now!” When we want candy, we want candy. It could be a craving or passing by a fun candy shop.
To be 100 percent honest, I had low expectations of the candy. Four days later, when I had my first bite, it was delicious! All of the candy received two thumbs up from my taste testers both big and small. But I was left wondering what would happen when we ran out of the candy?
And so, in the spring of 2013, the concept for a candy boutique called A Real Treat™ was born."