One day this past January, Jake Krob stopped by Mount Vernon Confections to sell owner Mickey Miller an ad in the weekly Mount Vernon Sun newspaper, which he published.
“She said, ‘I’m actually going to sell the business,’” recalled Krob’s wife, Niki. “He jokingly said, ‘I know someone who might want to buy it.’ That’s how it started.”
Before that, Niki Krob hadn’t intended to get into the candy business.
“It literally just dropped in my lap,” Krob said one morning last week. “I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years.”
But Krob, who’s also worked as an elementary school special-education teacher, found herself intrigued by the chance to take over the store, a downtown fixture for a decade.
“I’ve always been interested in the food industry,” she said. “Candy was s something I was very curious about.”
So Krob worked with Miller for three months before buying the store in March.
“She kind of showed me the ropes as far as tempering the chocolate and making the truffles and all that good stuff,” Krob said.
Longtime employee Brittany Aldrich stayed on along with Miller’s recipes.
“Anything Mickey didn’t teach me, Brittany’s able to do,” Krob said.
The new Sweet Factory debuted the weekend of Mount Vernon’s Chalk the Walk festival in May.
“We decided to have a re-grand opening,” Krob said. “We knew we were going to busy, but we didn’t know how busy. We used 58 gallons of ice cream.”
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Krob retained the Mount Vernon Confections brand for Miller’s original chocolates and truffles.
“People knew those chocolates,” she said. “We didn’t mess with the recipes.”
Changes include switching from house-made ice cream to Dan and Debbie’s, from Ely, and the addition of treats from other, mostly Iowa, sources.
“We added all our bulk candy, and got popcorn from Popcorn Charlie in Davenport,” she said. “Our cotton candy’s from a place in West Des Moines. We’ve just added cookies from the Pink Umbrella in Coralville.
“People like that we have ice cream from Iowa, popcorn from Iowa, cotton candy from Iowa.”
Krob’s children, especially the younger ones, chipped in with advice. There are seven Krob kids, ages four to 24.
“When we were talking about, ‘What should we add?’ they had lots of ideas,” Krob said. “‘Oh, you should have a chocolate fountain.’ Well, no.
“Sometimes they’re my taste-testers when we have new products come in. They give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down.”
As for paid employees, Krob has about a half-dozen in addition to Aldrich.
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“They’re all part-time, most of them in high school,” Krob said. “Brittany and I are the main chocolate makers.”
Adding bulk candy and some affordable options to the store’s trademark high-quality chocolates has expanded its customer base, Krob found.
“In the summer, we have a lot of younger kids come in,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite parts, when these kids come in and they go, ‘Oooh.’ They can bring their dollar in from mom or dad or grandpa and they’ll get something. Before, because the chocolate’s such a high-quality chocolate, there wasn’t a lot they could afford.”
The store’s longtime customers continue to stop by, too.
“The regulars know exactly what they want,” Krob said. “The people that are regulars are still Mickey’s chocolate people. A lot of the other people that come in are people that have just heard about us. More Cornell students are coming down.”
The store offers a discount to Cornell University students.
Holiday plans include chocolate-stocked Advent calendars and an array of gift boxes.
“We’ll have a lot of stocking stuffers and different things,” she said. “Fudge and peanut brittle and all that good stuff, we’ll continue that for sure.”
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AT A GLANCE
• Owner: Niki Krob
• Business: The Sweet Factory
• Address: 118 First St. SW, Mt. Vernon
• Phone: (319) 895-8834
• Website: facebook.com/mvconfections