Syracuse, N.Y. — There is a sudden demand for fudge.
With few other options for fall entertainment in the sixth month of the coronavirus pandemic, families started flocking to Central New York orchards. And the families want fudge with their apples.
So Speach Family Candy Shoppe’s phone has been ringing off the hook this fall, with local apple orchards asking to restock fudge and candies. Speach’s president and head chocolatier Michael Speach Jr. feels a little stressed. It’s a busy time. But he much prefers the rush of orders over no business at all.
“I’d rather be at work than to stay at home doing nothing,” said Speach, who took over the business in 2007.
This was supposed to be a big year for the family candy shop. It’s been 100 years since Speach’s great-grandfather (also Michael) started the candy business in 1920 on Townsend Street. The staff hoped to celebrate 2020 with big sales and a massive gala with 500 guests.
Then Covid-19 hit as the Easter business began to pick up. Sales plummeted to 12 percent of their typical spring season.
“Easter really hurt us,” Speach said. “Last year I made 5,000 pounds of chocolate bunnies, and this year I made 600 pounds. It was devastating.”
But the state deemed the shop “essential” because they were a food processor. Speach kept cash flowing in by doing candy shipments and pickup orders, while many other businesses shut down. The staff and delivery drivers were paid thanks to a PPP loan.
Creativity and humor helped guide their product creation. Speach invented a “Quarantine Crunch” brittle mix. The shop sold many “chocoholics survival kits” to customers stuck at home.
Mother’s Day brought a surprising shift. Many families opted to send their moms candy gift boxes because they couldn’t visit safely. Speach made over 400 deliveries in the first 10 days of May — almost double their deliveries of the previous year.
“It propelled us almost to normalcy,” Speach said.
Instead of a 100th anniversary gala (due to the continued ban on large gatherings), Speach plans to send out gifts to everyone he would’ve invited. And the shop launched a 100th-anniversary community project to donate a portion of sales to 10 nonprofits over 10 months.
Speach’s sales aren’t what he projected for an anniversary year, but he’s proud to have weathered the pandemic summer. Speach credits the staff’s fortitude to their “amazing support system.”
“I couldn’t have done this without my mother, my sister, all the aunts and uncles who have helped out, my partner, and my friends who know I’m stressed out, and bring over some pizza and wine,” he said.
And as summer turned to fall, Speach’s loyal customers returned. Mary Murphy Schwartz has been a Speach Candy customer for over 40 years.
“My father introduced me to their chocolate, and it was our secret spot,” said Schwartz. “They are so pleasant. So kind. You just want to keep coming back.”
Katrina Tulloch shoots videos and writes stories for Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Contact her: Email 5/8 Twitter 5/8 Facebook
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