Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Creating a Cleveland Candyland





   I got wind over the weekend that Jeff Campbell had all kinds of exciting news so I gave him a call Monday morning to find out what's happening. Campbell is the man behind Campbell's Sweets Factory, a West Side Market merchant ( with three stands: Campbell's Popcorn Shop, Grandma Campbell's Cupcakes, and Juice Garden),  better known perhaps as the creator of the diabolically delicious Dichotomy Corn, an addictive mix of cheddar and caramel "dust" so good that one Yelper gave it what must surely be the ultimate endorsement: "I'd slap my Grandma for a bag of their Dichotomy popcorn." Turns out that his business is not just booming  it's expanding in all directions and on both sides of this river- split city. The guy's got so many deals and projects in the works that he's had to hire a personal assistant just to keep him organized, on task and on time. The PA didn't start for a few days, so Jeff was still answering the phone and he had plenty to tell me.
  The company just signed a lease for a double storefront space in Lakewood, right next to Melt, on the corner of Warren and Detroit. The confectionery will open in September and be much like the Campbell's shop on West 25th Street: shelves filled with bags of popcorn in 25 different flavors; trays of treats like chocolate covered covered pretzels, Oreos and even jalapenos; and glass fronted cases stocked with truffles, Buckeyes, cookies and cupcakes. A third spot, with the same distinctive look and product, is scheduled to open in University Circle in March.
   Campbell, who lives in Slavic Village, is in negotiations to purchase a building on Fleet Avenue for a larger and much needed production facility, now that his stuff is being sold in many Giant Eagle supermarkets. He's also talking with the neighborhood CDC about the idea of  fostering what he calls a "European Culinary District" along the street. which is currently getting a major upgrade, making it a home for a variety of small food businesses. I think that's a great idea, given the neighborhood's ethnic past , a way of going forwards by drawing on what was best from the past.

      But there's more. "I've acquired the lot next to my house," Campbell tells me, "and I'm trying to buy more along Spafford Road because I want to plant 300 dwarf apple trees so we can use our own local fruit for our caramel and candied apples."  Actually being able to do that is at least three years away, but Campbell likes to think big and has a vision, a vision he attributes to his father, Amos. "This was my dad's dream. He loved the confectionary business. You can still see a video of him demonstrating how to pull taffy on YouTube.  Now we have 25 employees, and eight of them are family, including my wife and I. He'd be so happy to see what we're doing."

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