Fort Collins, Colorado
Industry: Food & Beverage
With an eye on expanding distribution, candyman John Buoniconti is sharing his classic sweet sugar art with new generations.
As one old saying goes, "Do something you love, and you'll never work a day in your life." It's a philosophy that certainly rings true for Buoniconti. "A bad day at the candy shop is better than a good day at most other jobs," he laughs. "It's pretty awesome that we get to make candy and bring joy to a lot of people."
Though his Fort Collins-based shop is only in its third holiday season at full production, Buoniconti has had a passion for candy manufacturing since 1996.
"When I moved to Colorado from Massachusetts, the first 'help wanted' ad I saw in the newspaper said, 'Do you like candy?'" he recalls. "I said, 'Yes, I sure do!' and went and applied for a job with a candy maker who had been running her shop for 20 years. I learned how to make candy there and absolutely fell in love with it my first season. By season six, I was trying to buy her business."
Though those plans fell through, and Buoniconti moved on to spend 15 years in business-to-business delivery, he never forgot his true love. "Anytime anyone asked me what my dream job was, the answer was always 'candy,'" he adds. Fortunately, time was on his side.
"In 2013, my wife and I were able to buy and sell a business," Buoniconti explains. "We then used those proceeds to start to procure the vintage equipment we use in our shop. All of it, besides our cotton candy machine, was made between 1886 and 1935. I spent the first season developing my formulas, figuring out packaging, and finding our commercial kitchen. Then off and running we went!"
Today, Colorado Candy Company operates out of a 1,300-square-foot kitchen with a small retail entrance where consumers can buy a few sweet treats and, if they're lucky, observe Buoniconti and his two fellow candy makers in action.
"Right now, we're cooking about three days a week," Buoniconti says. "That means we're probably doing about 150 batches of candy -- all products combined -- each month. We're nice and busy with lots of pre-orders, which is great. And we're on track to sell about 5,000 boxes of ribbon candy this season."
For those who are old enough to remember the ribbon candy of yesteryear, Buoniconti's small batch, artisan creation is exactly like that elegant, lustrous confection you'd enjoy at your grandma's house during the holiday season.
"It's traditional ribbon candy," Buoniconti says. "Super thin and delicate, it melts on your tongue when you put it in your mouth. From what I can find, we're one of about only six candy makers in the country that still hand-spins their ribbon candy. But it's the only way to make it so thin."
Available only from September through February, Colorado Candy Company's best-selling holiday product garners Buoniconti a lot of tearful hugs at pop-up events.
"Seeing that candy or tasting it flashes people back to sitting on grandpa's lap or getting that little brown paper bag at Christmas with peanut butter clusters and a piece of ribbon candy in it," he says. "Today, there are whole generations of kids who have no idea what ribbon candy is. We want to bring it back as a holiday tradition."
Fortunately for discerning candy lovers, Colorado Candy Company also crafts plenty of treats that are available year-round. These include hard candies -- each hand-cranked through an antique brass die set -- as well as a half-dozen different types of brittle, brittle-covered popcorn, and brittle-covered rice crispies.
"I had a dream one night about making candy, then came into the shop and created our bourbon pecan bacon brittle," Buoniconti says. "It's now our best-selling year-round product and has a lot of flavor for a piece of candy."
Challenges: "I think our biggest challenge is that we're a small mom-and-pop shop," Buoniconti says. "We're still just getting our feet on the ground. It's always a challenge to divide up the little bit of profit that you have between building the shop internally as well as paying for some marketing and getting your name out there so that you can gain enough customer base to continue to grow and add new products."
Opportunities: Buoniconti sees his company's small size as an opportunity. While he says his numbers are doubling from last year's, he's still able to take on custom orders and even compete with florists for centerpieces at weddings and parties with his artful candy creations. "Because we're small and nimble, we have that flexibility," he adds.
Available in about 85 locations along the Front Range as well as in a couple shops in New Mexico, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming, Buoniconti is also enthusiastic about further expanding his customer base into Colorado's mountain towns and neighboring states. "We are looking for specialty gourmet sorts of stores to carry our candy," he says.
Needs: Buoniconti says traditional candy makers are literally a dying breed. "As they pass away or retire, and their businesses don't get passed down, the art gets lost," he explains. "We're making stuff that very few people do these days. To keep that art alive, we need to continue to grow. Whether it's us owners continuing to invest in the company or some other sort of funding, capital is our biggest need."