Greer Missouri, 28, ordinarily would have a dream job: She runs sukker & sweet, a candy shop at The Street Chestnut Hill. Before COVID-19, guests would help themselves to more than 200 candies from around the world in communal bins, penny-candy-style. Now, she and her husband, Michael, have reopened and scaled back to 70 packaged candies, on shelves — but they haven’t soured on the idea, even if the shopping experience is different. They’re prepping a line of dairy- and gluten-free chocolate bars, plus lollipops, coming later this fall. On Halloween, visitors get a 20 percent discount on black licorice (try the Salty Kitties, a salted version shaped like Siamese cat).
How did you get into the candy business?
We came up with the idea a couple of years ago, but we officially opened the boutique at The Street Chestnut Hill a year ago next week. And it’s been quite a year. The original emphasis behind opening was the traditional Scandinavian penny-candy experience. A lot of folks have heard about Sweet Saturday, where the family goes and grabs a bunch of candy for a discounted price on the weekends in Norway, Sweden, what have you. That was really exciting to us — and just the thought of importing quality sweets. I find that the European gummies are a little more soulful. A lot of times they’re free of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, GMOs, the things that you’ll find in a lot of domestic candy. So it was really to be a destination for quality global sweets and that fun, penny-candy, self-serve experience. And obviously COVID had other plans for us.
But why candy and not something else?
We met at our last job. We were working at a software company together, both in sales. So, we started as friends and eventually started dating. While dating, Michael is very entrepreneurial, was always focused on starting his own business, really doing his own thing. And me, I was actually on my way to law school. I had done the LSATs, was done with my applications, and then took a hard right turn.
Really, we just love candy. I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to sweets. I always have been. I love anything like candy, cookies, cake. It doesn’t matter. And the candy I grew up on is true Americana: pixie sticks at the ball game; Buncha Crunch at the movie theater. Shortly into dating, Michael’s mother actually visited from Norway and brought this huge bag of candy. . . . It was phenomenal. There are just so many options, and they’re quality options. And I had never had true licorice outside of a Mike and Ike.
And I told [Michael], “This doesn’t exist here. This is something that I think people would really enjoy.”
It was a gamble. We put all of our chips in, for sure, but the response was amazing. People love candy. They love the experience of candy. We did a lot of market research in terms of the industry, and 80 percent of candy purchases are impulse buys. So, in a time where people say brick-and-mortar is dying, it was an opportunity to actually have a really successful retail store.
What would you say to somebody who’s contemplating going the mainstream route and then has another passion? How do you actually pull it off? I think you’re living out people’s dreams.
A lot of internal reflection. I come from a long line of lawyers, a family of lawyers. So, I was effectively about to go into the family business, if you will … I know too much about the lifestyle. There’s a difference between working hard for someone else and working hard for yourself.
All the business aspects had to make sense for me. I don’t mind at all if you publish this, but I liquidated my 401k. I mean, I really did the whole thing, and I had a very successful career in sales before, so I was very fortunate to be able to really gamble on myself in this way.
What happened to your business when COVID-19 hit?
Gosh, we were open for less time than we were closed during COVID. So, we shut down almost immediately when the situation became uncertain in early March, just understanding that we felt like we couldn’t safely do what we were doing, because we didn’t really know what was going on, and the situation was deteriorating pretty quickly.
So, upon closing, my husband and I talked a lot about the future and what that might include, and almost immediately we understood that it wasn’t going to be a bulk candy experience. We just felt that we couldn’t likely offer it safely, but also in this new COVID normal, is that really what customers would want or feel comfortable with? So the focus immediately became a refined selection of many of the sweets that we carried before, in our own unique packaging.
We very quickly learned what candy this customer base was really interested in. For instance, we had a more limited licorice selection, and we had folks coming in droves, like, “Where’s the licorice? Where’s the licorice?” And they wanted the hard stuff; they wanted the salmiak, salty options.
What does a candy shop look like during COVID-19?
I think we were very nervous about that transition. The whole reason behind opening was that experiential aspect of [going in] and trying everything. It’s a candy store! That’s literally the point.
But the bulk thing had its drawbacks, too. There’s a ton of food waste. It’s really hard to keep products fresh. And then we found that we had so many options, [and] while we thought they were great options, people tend to gravitate toward a pretty select group of things.
We had some obscure sour cola [candies], and they weren’t that enticing. It was pretty easy to move away from them. So, I think we were very nervous about, “OK, we’re going to package everything.” And COVID gave us the best excuse, in the sense of, “Hey, we don’t have options for you to try right now, because it’s just not that feasible for us.”
Since we reopened almost three months ago, two people have asked if they could sample something. People understand. … We also have a really solid base of regulars, and they trust us. They trust the selection that we’ve curated. I hope we haven’t steered them wrong yet.
We went from about 200 options to over 70 options now. So, again, a little bit more streamlined, but we’ve also learned that the more isn’t necessarily the merrier. A lot of times, consumers get overwhelmed with choices. I know I do. We found that in having fewer options, too, I think people really look at what’s in front of them more and are more eager to try things.
What will Halloween be like this year?
Probably not a lot of retail traffic. We’re definitely rebounding. Usually, The Street does a really fun Halloween celebration. We actually opened on that Halloween celebration the year before. So, it’s definitely going to be a little bit different. We are going to be offering a promotion on our black licorice, which we’re super excited about — 20 percent off all of our black licorice, and we have quite a few new options, too, which is exciting for that crowd. It fits the vibe, we think: spooky.
We have three little ones as well, so it’s definitely a different vibe this year. I don’t anticipate trick-or-treating or anything like that, but hopefully everyone can still remain excited about the candy. I think people are going to be having their own thing going on at home, and hopefully they’ll come into sukker & sweet to grab a few cool options for that.
Tell me about balancing a new business with parenthood.
Well, we’re a blended family. The oldest is 6 , then a 4½-year-old, and our youngest is 2½.
It’s so funny. People always say, “Oh, my gosh, isn’t this their dream? They have parents with a candy store.” I’m like, “No, they come to the candy store and they’re like, ‘When are we going to the Container Store?’”
We have the same challenges as any family, navigating school, life, and COVID, and also a business. But I think the kids are doing the best. They’re the most resilient. It’s just a new normal, and they’re the most relaxed, I think, through it all.
Favorite candy of all time?
I love chocolate, and I love crunch. So, growing up it was always Buncha Crunch. Now, at the store, I would say it’s our milk chocolate rice bark — the Swedish version of it.
Mainstream commercial candy?
I mean, everything. Buncha Crunch, Twizzlers. I’m not a sours person. I’m actually such a baby when it comes to sours. All I could ever do were the Sour Patch watermelons.
Most overrated candy?
Snickers. We might get some hate mail for that, but I just think Snickers are very lackluster.
Favorite quarantine snack? Doesn’t have to be candy.
Too much. Too much of everything. I’d say our biggest guilty pleasure is Chick-fil-A breakfast. It’s a problem. . . . My husband is the best eating partner you could ever ask for. We love all the same things, so it allows us to get a lot of different things and share them. So, the chicken biscuit; the chicken burrito; and he loves his sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. They have the mini hash browns. And we love the sauces. The Polynesian sauce, you can’t go wrong.
Any Halloween advice for families who are missing their traditions? What are you going to do at your own home?
I mean, we can’t be the candy people who don’t offer candy. We made that mistake last year. We were so focused on the business opening, because it opened right before Halloween. But we were at the store on Halloween and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, we didn’t leave out anything!” We didn’t do anything. That’s terrible.
So, this year, we’re definitely going to leave a bowl out. We don’t have any plans to trick or treat. So, if you’re brave enough to do it, stop by our house to get something. But with the kids, we still want to make it special. I ordered their costumes. They’ll have a little living room sleepover. We put some mattresses down, and we’ll watch funny Disney movies. They love popcorn, so we’re going to have a smorgasbord going on with candy. Halloween is just about making it fun and making it silly. COVID or not COVID, that can absolutely be accomplished.