A free sample awaits you at Gilbert’s Candy & Confections

Jennifer Gilbert makes much of the candy herself in her confectionery. SUSAN HAUSER/photo

One of the first things you notice when you walk into Gilbert’s Candy & Confections is a wall behind the cash register counter that’s lined with shelves filled with large jars – sample jars.

It’s true. Owner Jennifer Gilbert is a firm believer in free samples. If you think you’d like to buy a certain type of candy, but aren’t quite sure, try a sample. And then another.

A journalism graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Gilbert believes that almost everyone loves candy as much as she does, or should. Her first job out of college was as associate editor of the trade magazine “Candy Industry.” When asked why it was her choice, instead of saying, the Chicago Tribune, she replied with a smile, “I’ve always loved chocolate.”

She and her husband, David, got married on Mackinac Island in Michigan, known to some as the fudge capital of the world, and dreamed of returning there one day to open a candy store that offered everything but fudge. But years have passed and now, living in Chesterton with two children, Lorelei, 10, and Landon, 14, they have achieved their dream, but in Chesterton.

Their store, on the second level of The Factory, 1050 Broadway, Suite 17, has been open for a year, long enough to build up a devoted clientele of mostly children and their parents. “We’re so close to Chesterton Middle School,” she said. “Children come after school and then they tell their parents.”

The department store has various candy and confectionery sections that appeal to most tastes. One section contains nostalgic sweets from the mid-20th century and earlier. A Harry Potter candy section sits next to the Jelly Belly display, for good reason. The Jellybean company holds the license to produce Harry Potter candies, which are very popular with children.

The shelves of bottled craft sodas include more than 30 varieties of root beer, among other traditional soft drink flavors. There are many candies that are priced under a dollar, Gilbert’s way of replicating the offerings at Chesterton’s former Ben Franklin store.

“Everyone remembers going to the Ben Franklin and buying penny candy,” Gilbert said. “But we have candy for only a quarter.”

Gilbert said she and her husband have a soft spot for small, family-owned, artisan confectionery businesses, much like theirs. She often meets the makers at candy shows or heard about them while she was deputy editor of that candy magazine where, she says, one of her favorite parts of the job was getting samples. free.

A large display holds tubs of what is called “Crack Corn”. It’s like popcorn but with a melty texture and an addictive taste. With flavors like Ultra Cheddar, Ice Cream Sundae, Chili Lime, Sea Salt Caramel, and Cookies & Cream, Crack Corn is made in Ohio by Jimmy Crack Corn. Well, actually, by a man named James whom Gilbert met at the Sweet & Snack Expo last year in Indianapolis.

There are gluten-free and vegan candies, even dairy-free chocolate which Gilbert says is pretty good.

She should know what’s good in chocolate. Most milk and dark chocolate offerings, including a variety of bars and truffles, are made by Gilbert and her husband in a rented commercial kitchen. They also make freeze-dried candies, which they thought were weird until they tried them.

“A customer asked for freeze-dried Skittles,” she recalls. They tried and now, “they’re really good and popular. We also make freeze-dried Spree. Salt water taffy from Taffy Town, a Utah company, was recently added. “They have 28 flavors and honestly it’s the best taffy we’ve ever tried,” she said.

Although candy lovers found their way to her doorstep, Gilbert said she and her husband decided that a larger space, complete with its own kitchen, would be best. While their second-floor store remains open, they will redevelop their new space on the ground floor of The Factory, previously occupied by a vape store, and expect to be ready to open in the fall.

Customers will then be able to see Gilbert at work in the confectionery kitchen, doing the work she loves, making the candies she loves. Free samples will always be available.

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