W. Ind. candy store finds gluten-free niche

2/12/2013 10:15 AM
By Associated Press

DANA, Ind. (AP) — Sweet, smooth and chunky, the candy creations available at Brooke's Candy Co. in the tiny Vermillion County town of Dana have been boxed with Valentine's Day in mind.

Candy-makers Brooke Schmidt and her mother, Donna Thompson, operate the candy shop in the 1900s plantation-style home where Brooke grew up in downtown Dana.

They opened the business in 2007, and they have been designated as artisan candy-makers by the Indiana Artisan organization.

"We make the candy as ordered, or as needed to put it in the shop," Brooke told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/Z7rGoH ) Monday while giving a tour of the business.

"We use all natural Belgian chocolate. And, we are now a gluten-free kitchen."

The candy is made from scratch in a separate kitchen of the home, where Brooke and Donna work with compliance specialist Dana Brown to make sure all of the ingredients and products meet the gluten-free and rice-free standards set for the candy. The decision to go for the "free" designation came after Brooke heard from a vendor who said she has trouble finding candy that does not set off her food allergies.

That was a niche that the candy company decided to fill, so now Brooke and company use tapioca flour shipped from Oregon as well as sorghum flour. They have also gone through the lengthy application process for certification as gluten-free.

As the annual sweetheart's holiday approaches on Thursday, business has ramped up for the handmade candy business. The shop opened Monday and will be open through Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Online orders will also be filled as quickly as possible, Donna said, noting that those for Valentine's Day should be submitted as soon as possible.

Candy-making has been a passion for Brooke since her teenage days. After moving to Illinois as an adult, she still found herself relying on chocolate to help others. She laughingly shared that when she worked as a purchasing agent at a factory, she kept a desk drawer full of chocolate to share with stressed-out co-workers, and she became known as the "chocolate lady."

When her family returned to Indiana, she connected with her mother and sister to start the candy-making business for real.

"I had my first baby and decided I wanted to work around home, so I started to make almond toffee, and started perfecting it, so we started selling it," Brooke said.

With her children now in school, Brooke spends much more time in the candy kitchen and marketing her creations around the state.

"We do wholesale all year-round, and online orders, too, but the shop is seasonal," Schmidt said.

In addition to the designation as an Indiana Artisan company, Brooke's Candy Co. is also included on the Indiana's Eight Artisan Trail — Roads and Rivers — which recognizes six artisan businesses in Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties.

The 249 artisans recognized statewide have been identified as "among the highest-quality in the state" by the artisan organization.

Chocolate candy is not the only creation available at the Dana shop.

A line of gluten-free brownie mixes is now packaged by Brooke's, in addition to a variety of chocolate and peanut butter fudge and chocolate-dipped apples.

Brooke's also has a partnership with Rex Coffee, and the candy products are available in Terre Haute at the Clabber Girl store and the Union Hospital gift shop.

Brooke said the location of her candy store may seem out-of-the-way to some who haven't traveled to the small Vermillion County town, but she is hoping that more customers will make the journey to Dana. The company is also eager to fill online orders, especially for Valentine's Day.

Anyone wanting more information about Brooke's Candy Co. and the variety of chocolates, mixes and sweets available can go online to www.brookescandyco.com .

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com


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