Carol and John Flannigan want to transport you back to your childhood—and in the most delicious of fashions. The Flannigans own CJ’s Candies, an old-fashioned candy store located in a setting that couldn’t get more nostalgic if it tried. They are tucked into the former circa 1934 Shelby Theatre in downtown Shelbyville.
Within this “world of pure imagination” is an eye-popping variety of sweets. In a cubby left from a previous incarnation as a men’s clothing store, cheery bins of retro candies including Mary Janes, Cow Tails, Root Beer Barrels, and Candy Buttons await.
The homemade goodies are arrayed in vintage display cases: fudge in flavors like dark chocolate peanut butter swirl and cookies and cream; hand-dipped chocolates—buckeyes, butter creams, peanut clusters, coconut cups; candies with coconut, maraschino cherry cream, and Key lime centers. They also serve ice cream cones, sundaes, floats, and malts.
Topping the charts are Oreo truffles, with CJ’s cake balls, chocolate truffles, and peanut butter fudge close behind. In December, specialty treats like gourmet Rudolph apples, peppermint truffles, and candy cane fudge add a festive touch to the cases.
“If you want to view paradise,” as the Pure Imagination song goes, “simply look around and view it.” You need look no farther than your own back yard: Kentucky has several old-fashioned candy shops brimming with tantalizing, fanciful creations. Go ahead, “hold your breath, make a wish, count to three,” and enter.
In LaRue County, at The Sweet Shoppe, Hodgenville, all confections are made in-house, including the delectables at the fudge counter, which are whipped up in double-boiler kettles from a secret recipe.
“At any time, you can select from 30 to 35 different flavors of fudge,” says Patrick Durham. He and his wife, Paula, have owned the shop for 10 years.
Located in a 1940s-era building on the town square, just left of the Lincoln Statue, the Durhams get visitors from around the world who are touring Abraham Lincoln attractions.
Favorite fudge flavors are peanut butter, tiger butter, and Kentucky bourbon. Unusual tastes include watermelon, caramel apple pie, Mississippi mud, and Elvis—a banana, chocolate, and peanut butter concoction.
Founded in 1919 by former school teachers Ruth Hanly (later Booe) and Rebecca Gooch, Rebecca Ruth Candies in Frankfort offers factory tours including a mix of antique and modern equipment. They produce more than 120 mouth-watering confections, including the bourbon ball. History says that Booe worked for two years before perfecting the still-secret process of blending bourbon with candy.
In business since 1921, celebrating their 90th year, Ruth Hunt Candies in Mt. Sterling was started by Ruth Tharpe Hunt out of her home. They now offer a selection of Kentucky-made and unusual equine products and crafts alongside more than 70 of their famous confections, including the unique Blue Monday or melt-in-your mouth pulled cream candy and bourbon balls. Visitors can tour the store and factory that opened in 2001 at 550 North Maysville Road.
In northern Kentucky, where the Candy Cottage in Fort Thomas has been open just one year, a visit there feels like stepping back in time. Owner Michelle Buckler has jars brimming with taffy, candy bars like Mallo Cups, and “penny candy” faves (marshmallow cones, Bit-o-Honeys), plus cases of hand-dipped chocolates, including turtles, coconut haystacks, raspberry creams, almond bark, and more.
Nearby in Bellevue, Schneider’s Sweet Shop has been making candy there by hand since 1939 when Robert Schneider first hung out his shingle. Reminiscent of an old-time corner ice cream and candy store, the chocolates, cream candies, fudges, caramels, and other sweets are made using the same equipment, methods, and time-tested recipes.
Schneider’s specialty, the Opera Cream, is unique to northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. This toothsome morsel is enrobed in dark or milk chocolate. It is Schneider’s understanding that it was developed years ago by a German candy maker for the Cincinnati Opera.
Reaching back even farther is the family-owned Muth’s, Louisville’s oldest, continuously operating candy store—still hand making, hand dipping, and hand packing. Old-fashioned goodies include 14 flavors of creams and peanut brittle cooked in a copper kettle and stretched by hand.
The Candy Cottage
www.facebook.com: search for store name
Rebecca Ruth Candies
Ruth Hunt Candies
Schneider’s Sweet Shop
The Sweet Shoppe