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VOL. 40 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 5, 2016

Music City has chocolate to soothe any sweet tooth

By Joe Morris

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Olive & Sinclair’s Mexican-style chocolate heart

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If you’ve ever seen someone at a local meat and three restaurant order sweet tea and still add sugar, then Nashville’s sweet tooth is no surprise.

And like health care and high tech, this has become the place to be for those looking to satisfy those calorie-dense cravings.

Longtime confectioner Goo Goo has opened its first retail store downtown, added new items to its signature cluster and continues to do a solid retail business here and throughout its online and physical distribution networks.

Newer players such as Olive & Sinclair and the Nashville Toffee Co., also have claimed a piece of the sugary pie, doing brisk business despite several years of a slow economy and expanding both the size and scope of their offerings.

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, the move is on to prepare specialty offerings, as well as look back and take stock of a solid Christmas season for both consumer and business sales, and see what 2016 and beyond will bring.

Goo Goo buttons are bite-sized candies filled with centers like salted caramel, peanut butter or marshmallow

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“Valentine’s is huge for us, second only to Christmas,” says Scott Witherow, owner of Olive & Sinclair. “We’ll do some seasonal items, like Mexican-style chocolate heart, and since it falls on a Sunday, we think we’ll probably have more site tours the day before. We might even offer some special bubby treats during those tours.”

Olive & Sinclair, which was founded in 2007 and began sales in 2009, has grown “exponentially” since then, Witherow explains. While a recession wasn’t an ideal time to throw open the doors for the state’s first bean-to-bar chocolate company, interest was strong early on, and now the brand, which has an East Nashville plant and store, is growing its area retail presence with a new store planned in Franklin.

“We’re doing 20 times what we used to, and a lot of that has to do with how we’ve streamlined some products and our shipping, which has made us easier to find and buy,” Witherow adds.

“Some of that is the business just growing up. We used to have to create individual shipment slips, and now we’ve got programs that do that for us. We’ve found ways to be more efficient.”

Toffee from Nashville Toffee Company

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That has allowed buyers to create custom packages for personal or business gifts, but also for the company to keep adding new items to the product line. It’s also become more widely available in other retail outlets, so Witherow says the team’s challenge will be to stay on top of growth while still maintaining the unique flavors and products that have served Olive & Sinclair well so far.

“We are really excited about how well we’ve done, and Nashville has been a great place to get up and running,” he adds. “We look forward to continuing what we’ve started here.”

The atmosphere’s just as sweet at the Nashville Toffee Co., which launched in 2003 with a grandparent’s recipe and a desire to offer clients a nice gift.

“We really began as sort of a stovetop hobby,” says George Cohn, founder and owner. “My wife had a massage-therapy business, and so it was a whim more than anything to make some to give to clients. The next year we expanded that to friends and family, and before we knew it we had 500 pounds of toffee ordered.”

These days, the company creates 500 pounds of toffee in a few hours and has moved out of the kitchen into a full-scale production facility. Around Christmas, the staff swells to between 15 and 20 people, but everything’s still made by hand.

“We have a luxury niche, so we stay pretty busy all the time,” Cohn says. “We’ve never really had a dip. There were some steady periods, but it’s all been up. The last few months of 2015 were a real whirlwind, and we see a steady climb as we move into 2016.”

The years of 1,000 percent growth may be behind Nashville Toffee Co., but with expansions in all categories, more online orders than ever and an increasing array of vendors –Whole Foods, Fresh Market and some Kroger and Publix stores – the Nashville connection will stay as solid as the company name.

“We have a cultish following that really has a life of its own,” explains Cohn, who plays a little hockey when he can – and where he’s known as “Candyman.”

A bit older, as in around since 1912, would be the Standard Candy Co., which makes a little number known as the Goo Goo Cluster.

Not content with a century of busting diets through retail sales across the city, state and region, Goo Goo has now opened its first storefront in downtown Nashville.

“It’s our flagship, and it has been busy ever since we had our soft opening in July 2014,” says Heather Barber, director of retail. “We didn’t time its opening around the economy continuing to pick up, but that certainly hasn’t hurt sales. Christmas was big, and Valentine’s Day is also a good candy holiday so it’s good for us.”

Just in time for this year’s day of professing love, the store will open a new dessert bar, which will offer only Goo Goo-inspired desserts. So if a shopper isn’t content to watch the blending of four to six flavors of regular and premium Goo Goo’s – along with Goo Goo buttons, which are exactly what they sound like — before their very eyes, they can wander back and trade up.

“We’ve maintained our ‘tried and true’ for 100 years, and so we’re branching out a bit,” Barber says.

“We had a chef’s series where we partnered with local chefs and others who came up with a recipe, working with our confectionery kitchen manager.

“We still have some of those around, and we’ll be adding even more new items to the dessert bar as it takes off. Nashville’s definitely not a bad place to run a confectionery.”

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