Chocolates. Dark chocolates. Truffles. Chocolate-covered pretzels. Nut and fruit filled chocolates and peppermint Oreo truffles. Oh my! Naomi Privett, owner and entrepreneur behind Shipshewana, Indiana's Naomi’s Candies, has a sweet thing going and it seems to be growing all the time.
Naomi’s Candies was born as sort of a fluke 15 years ago. She recalled, “I made some hard tack bags of candy for a party with some co-workers. Everyone loved it and my manager suggested that I start making it to sell at restaurants. In a span of two weeks, I sold 14 bags!”
It wasn’t long before she started experimenting with other sweet confections. After the hard tack, she tried her hand at suckers. Soon after that she ventured into chocolates because, after all, who can resist rich chocolate candy? This is when business really started to boom because there were just so many possibilities. “Chocolate can cover just about anything,” Naomi explains. “There are all kinds of fruit centers, nougat, caramel, peanut butter and a variety of nuts and rich chocolatey centers with different flavor additives like peppermint and orange. I like to experiment with different centers for the chocolates.”
In the beginning, she only sold her candies at the bakery where she worked. Then she got her first account at, of all places, a butcher shop that wanted to sell her sweets. It seemed like one thing led to another and she kept trying new items like chocolate-covered chewies, turtles, and recipes that came from her mother like maple balls.
It just seemed to fall into place for her and she knew that she had found her niche. “Timing was perfect. When I first started I was a new mom and I knew that I wanted to stay home with the baby and also work. Making candies let me do both.”
It grew so fast that she soon found herself with a bit of a problem. “To be legal, I needed a licensed kitchen that was separate from our personal kitchen in which to make the candy.”
It didn’t take long for her husband, Corban, and her brothers to build her a licensed kitchen next to their home. “It was small but it worked for me. It was only 150 square feet and it had a little heater and lots of toys for the kids,” Naomi laughs.
Since then, they have moved to a larger house with a built-in kitchen where she can let her creativity run wild. It has also become a family affair with at least one of their four children, Callie, Natalie, Cameron or Nolan, in the kitchen keeping her company at any given time. “She has worked so hard and has fun doing it,” Corban beams. “I am so proud of her!”
Today, she not only has a website where folks can peruse her full line of goodies and order at will, but also participates in many craft shows and farmers markets in the area throughout the year. All in all, she does about 30 shows per year and can set up in about an hour, having it down to a science. Understandably, Christmas is her busiest time and there are a few treats that she only makes during November and December like peppermint Oreo truffles. Her chocolate caramel apples, chocolate caramel cups, and mint Oreos are also amazing.
She considers herself fortunate that she lives in the heart of Amish country and Shipshewana especially. “Folks around this neck of the woods are used to homemade foods and baked goods, so my homemade candies fit right in. People in the area know me as the candy lady,” she laughs.
Her homemade caramels are also a staple in the area. Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an Amish-style restaurant and gift shop in nearby Middlebury, Indiana, has a standing order for her caramels each week. I watched her as she prepared the week’s order. She wrote out her own labels, tore squares of wax paper, cut her caramels out of a 9-by-13 cake pan and wrapped them. Now, how much more homemade can you get than this!
On top of all the other candies, it just wouldn’t be right if she didn’t also offer fudge, her style of course! Instead of trying to delve into all the different flavors, she sticks to the basics of chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter and chocolate walnut.
You would think that she spends all her time in the candy kitchen. Surprisingly, between making the candy and doing the shows, she only spends an average of 15 hours a week on the business. Occasionally, she does hire help in the kitchen and at shows. “That’s what is so nice about this job,” she gratefully admits, “I can work it around the family and not the other way around. If I have a free hour, I make centers and later dip them in chocolate. I can package them anytime. The same goes for making caramels and many of the other items.”
The downfall to this business would be wanting to taste-test all the time. “Not after the novelty wears off,” she explained. “Like anything else, when you are around it all the time, it doesn’t have the same pull. Even the kids only occasionally ask for some.”
Of course, her other passion would certainly counter-balance any cravings she gave into. Usually twice a week she drives to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to an ice skating rink. Growing up idolizing skaters like Kristi Yamaguchi and Nancy Kerrigan, skating became a part of who she is. “I think that everyone should have that one thing that defines them, that when they engage in it, there is nothing else on their mind. Skating does this for me, it puts everything into perspective and makes me feel good about myself.”
She has just started practicing a new phase of skating, the slow dance. “It is like ice dancing, where all the moves flow smoothly into a routine. It is fun to do and beautiful to watch.”
Besides the Christmas season, Valentine’s Day is also a big one for her but she also focuses on other special occasions. People want something different for birthdays, weddings and graduation parties and candies are easily customized.
Life has been good to Naomi and she wants to give back to the community that supports her. Her candy business is the perfect avenue to accomplish this. Recently, she donated a percentage of her sales to a local girl diagnosed with cancer. Her candy sales also help support various boys and girls clubs and the library in Milford.
“I couldn’t do this without the support of my family, especially my husband, Corban. He supports me in every way,” she admits. “The Lord has been good to bless me with this exciting business.”
Life is truly sweet, in more ways than one, for Naomi Privett.