On many evenings, you can find Grant Schultz in the back of Costas Candies and Restaurant, patiently stirring a pot of bubbling caramel. For two to three hours he keeps vigilance over the hot confection until it is ready to pour onto a marble slab to cool for the night. Costas Candies and Restaurant has been a main stay in Owatonna, MN for almost a century, but the Schultz family is new to the candy kitchen. Grant had grown up in that community and when he married his wife, Julie, they served Costas candy at their wedding.
“Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought this would be our future, but we are loving it,” smiles Julie. Three and a half years after that joyous occasion, they purchased the candy shop and restaurant in 2009 and have continued the location’s long tradition of handmade candies ever since.
George Boosalis started the candy kitchen in Owatonna in 1919 and in the 20’s he expanded to include a restaurant. George’s nephew, Costas, sailed over from Greece to help with the business and took over the store around 1960. Business was good and in 1971 he expanded and renamed it Costas Coffee Shop. The success of the restaurant and candy shop continued and in 1980 he changed the name for a final time to Costas Candies and Restaurant.
Costas’ son, Ted, was the 3rd generation of the Boosalis family to own the business, but after 5 years he felt his future was not in hand rolled sweets so the family started looking for a buyer. They found the store’s unlikely new stewards in Julie and Grant Schultz.
“For neither of us was it our background at all,” explained Julie. “I was a teacher and he was doing construction with his dad. We both enjoyed being in the kitchen and we both loved cooking and baking.” The little candy making experience they had was from when Grant and his mother had made candies for Christmas. The year before purchasing the candy shop, they had coincidentally made truffles, but they had no idea that making candy would become such a large part of their lives.
“It just kinda fell into our lap,” recalls Julie. “We knew the owners and knew they were gonna be looking to sell and they kind of approached us about it.” Rising to the challenge, the Schultz family learned the ins and outs of candy making and proudly carried on the legacy the Boosalis family had started in their small Minnesota town.
“People ask if we ever thought about moving to expand. I don’t think we would ever move totally,” Julie explains. “I mean, we could, of course, but that is part of our history. It is where we are and what we are doing. The same with when we took over, why we didn’t change the name. The name is the candy. That’s the tradition. We never once thought of changing the name.”
Grant makes most of the candy, whether that is staying up late to stir caramel, mixing the ingredients for truffle fillings, cutting slabs of cooled confections, or rolling them to prepare them for dipping. They have a fulltime candy dipper that dips each caramel, truffle, buttercreme, and toffee by hand from a tempering machine (a large spinning machine that keeps the chocolate at just the right temperature and consistency). The candy making process can be long, spreading over a few days.
One of their star products, the bright, foiled-wrapped truffle, takes three days to go from mixer to store shelf. The first evening Grant uses a stand mixer to create the filling and, when it is finished, he pours it into a pan to cool overnight. The next day it is cut, rolled, and dipped in chocolate. The truffles must rest one more night so the chocolate can harden before they are wrapped the following day.
“You can eat it right away and I definitely eat a truffle the first day when she is making it because it is just divine,” Julie laughs. “You have to try it the first day, but no one else ever gets to because it has to set and fully harden, especially that bottom layer… if it is not completely solid and firm then it will pop through when you wrap it. They sit for 12 to 24 hours before we wrap them. It is a process.”
But the passion for the process is the reason Costas Candies and Restaurant is coming up on its 100-year anniversary. As sweet as the rewards of this business are, owning two businesses in the same location makes for some long days.
“We have to be here in the morning to do the restaurant. The way we are situated right now, he can’t make the candy while she is dipping. He has to stay at night. During the candy season he is putting in 14-16 hour days, 6-7 days a week and we have little kids! They really don’t see Grant in December,” Julie admits.
Relief may be on the way. The 2015 holiday season stretched thin Costas’ small and dedicated staff. “We met capacity, which is what we had been hoping to do. We were hoping to start an online store, but we hadn’t because we were kind of at capacity. We needed to get to that point. Now we are talking and making plans for how we can expand because we don’t have enough room and time to keep up with the demand any more,” says Julie. “Of course we would like to expand and change things so he doesn’t have to work quite so much.”
One thing that will not change with the continued growth is how they make their candy. Costas candy has been made by hand in the same location since it first began and the Schultz family plans to keep it that way.
“Our goal is never to sell at grocery stores. We don’t want to be a big candy production,” Julie stresses. “We want to be handmade. We are nearing 100 years of handmade candy and we want to stay at that.”
You can find Costas truffles at Ferndale Market. Be sure to visit their candy shop and restaurant to experience all their wonderful sweets.
“We have a pretty big candy case and when it is filled, if you have never been here, it is a pretty amazing thing to see,” Julie smiles.