A Lemonade Stand Wasn’t Going to Cut it!
When my first child was born, I closed my architectural business and became a stay-at-home dad. It was like venturing into unchartered waters. Those early years with one and then two kids were filled with precious, embarrassing, and trying moments that humbled me back to reality.
By the time my kids got to their school years, they were experts at asking to buy every thing in every store we entered. I needed a solution.
My idea was to help the kids earn their own money so they could begin to understand its value. A lemonade stand wasn't going to cut it, so I pulled out their great grandma Coover’s caramel recipe and we went to work.
Our First Batch
Our first batch of caramel was so delicious that it brought tears to my eyes. The joy didn’t hit me like a brick; it came over me slowly like the softness of the caramel. By the time each piece had gotten to the center of my mouth, the sugars had melted away leaving the flavors to blossom and intermingle on my tongue. It was like a play with new characters coming on and off the stage, all reminding me that this deep, dark caramel was cooked nice and slow.
Yes, this was Grandma Coover’s caramel all right; and every bite reminded me of how generous she was. As the kids and I ate more of this first batch, we talked about their great grandma Coover. Suddenly, the focus shifted from teaching my kids about money to teaching them about generosity. Coover Caramels would quickly become a platform for giving.
Our First Identity
The first thing we thought we should do was to plan how we’d package this goodness. The kids and I looked at different fonts for creating a logo. We found one we liked, tweaked it in Illustrator, and emailed it to an Etsy artist who crafted it into a handmade stamp. (Supporting other artists is high on my priority list.) In the beginning, we hand-stamped everything. It was a good first identity.
With our packaging in place, the kids and I met others face-to-face just for the purpose of sharing. We gave caramels to their teachers and school volunteers; we shared caramels with the lunch ladies who spoke little English but understood the universal language of sharing; and we gave caramels to our neighbors. My kids got to see that the act of kindness AND the goodness of the caramel made people smile… and people wanted more!
So we made more caramel and, by week’s end, each kid had earned $40 in sales. We made more caramels still and sold over 350 pieces that weekend. Then, a dear friend shared some Coover Caramels with her marketing colleague at work. The colleague loved the caramels so much that she placed an order for 140 cups to give as gifts. This meant we had to produce 3,500 pieces in one week! Suddenly, this thing was REAL!
Let’s Get Cooking
Getting the right tools for any job is critical. Nothing beats a tin-lined copper pot, hardwood mixing spoons, and a good, long thermometer for perfect Coover Caramels. Calibrating your tools is a must, and watching the weather is just as important. A humid day will produce a violent boil that can result in some pretty serious burns. The whole process is very technical and requires a lot of fine-tuning.
When it comes time to cook, everything slows down because it’s the passage of time that makes the caramel deep in color and full in flavor. Of course, good ingredients are vital too. We use organic butter and other ingredients made fresh in Texas. And we wrap the caramels in cellulose films made from sustainable wood pulp. Only the best will do!
Working Kids are Happy Kids!
As demands for Coover Caramels grew, we had to make bigger batches. We found out the hard way that there was more to this process than just doubling the ingredients. The kids helped by sampling batch after batch until we had gotten it right.
Testing Coover Caramels makes for a sweet day at the office!
Wrap, Wrap, Wrap – I Can’t Go Any Faster!
Producing in large quantities created new challenges. We learned that cutting with a $9 pizza cutter was actually faster than using a $270, sixteen-blade caramel cutter. Coover Caramels are melt-in-your-mouth soft and, when hand-cut, they are as varied and beautiful as my son's matchbox car collection!
But, alas, after 20 hours of fine-tuning the art of hand wrapping, I realized that, at my very best, I could only produce about 4 pieces per minute. I needed more hands! So, I called upon the neighborhood youth. By the next day, we had our food-handler permits and the Coover Caramels Crew was trained and ready to wrap. Our new best had become 14 pieces per minute!
The kids decided that, instead of a lemonade stand, they wanted to build a Coover Caramels cottage. Using wood from my architectural model-making supplies, they created a miniature door, a pan, and a push mower. We added our logo, arranged these items up against a handsome tree, and voilà, we had a cottage! Next, the kids sponsored a scavenger hunt along the hike and bike trail near our house. We offered a free cup of Coover Caramels to the first nine adventurers who spotted the cottage, took a photo with it, and posted the photo on our Facebook page.
Everything is Bigger in Texas!
The idea of making 60 lbs. of Coover Caramels in one batch was exciting, but we were going to need a bigger pot. Our research led us to a Groen Kettle that was big enough to fit a small child! Lucky us, we found a used one in Ohio – 25 years used, to be exact – and it was a beauty!
With Texas-sized orders still coming in, we took Texas-sized steps. We applied for our food manufacturer’s license and got situated in a commercial kitchen. Coover Caramels had taken off and we intended to keep up!
There’s no doubt about it, our caramels produce smiles – big, happy smiles! But there’s more to Coover Caramels than the candy: We hope that the sweetness of the caramel will remind people of the sweetness in their hearts. With every human interaction we have a choice about how we will behave. We can be positive, negative, or neutral. If we choose to be positive, we make the world a better place… one gesture at a time. This is the sweetness that really matters in life. Please visit our “Make Life Sweeter” page and learn how Coover Caramels is working shoulder to shoulder with volunteers to make life sweeter. – Thank you!