The sweet life

Stefanie Wallace
September 20, 2012
Written by
Stepping inside McFarland’s Old Tyme Sweet Shoppe blasts you back to childhood faster than a cheetah in chase. Like a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, chocolate caramel pretzels, peanut butter cups and homemade turtles line the shelves. Rows and rows of decadent truffles are meticulously displayed behind glass. Trays of moist, frosted cupcakes wrapped in parchment paper are perched on the counter. And it’s impossible to overlook the stunning displays of retro candy in vintage apothecary jars and a fully restored cash register from 1893.

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Owner Rachel McFarland, left, and her mother, Diana Grose, are two of the smiling faces that greet customers daily.

 
Life just couldn’t be sweeter is the store’s very appropriate motto, and it certainly rings true for owners Andy and Rachel McFarland and their family. Located in downtown Simcoe, Ont., the Sweet Shoppe hasn’t yet been open for a year, but already the McFarlands have enjoyed more success than they could ever have imagined. From nearby Windham Centre, the McFarlands began selling their goods about three years ago at local markets before venturing into a storefront location. Rachel is a self-taught chocolatier, while Andy handles the administrative side of the business. “We asked our clients where they’d like to see us located. They all said downtown Simcoe was really great and it’s been awesome,” Rachel says.

It took two months for the McFarlands to prepare their shop. Andy designed all of the cabinetry, complete with vintage moulding along the shelves and mirrored display cases. “My dad did all the brass work for us,” Rachel says, including the ribbon holders and age-old cash register. “We sometimes use it for ice cream but it’s mostly for show. People love it, it really matches in here.”

Their product line is unique and caters to the true sweet tooth. Rachel makes about 90 per cent of the chocolate, and all of the baking is made from scratch, based on family recipes. “Yes, it costs more than a grocery store, but people like that scratch taste,” Rachel says. “Even the texture, they say, is different; it’s moist and fresh.” Local, homemade fare is important to members of the small community, and the McFarlands know how much their customers value this. “We make about 90 per cent of the chocolate that is sold here,” Rachel says, “and we make our own caramel, which is awesome.” And to complement the homemade waffle cones is ice cream from the Kawartha Dairy Company. While it’s not local, Rachel says they chose Kawartha Dairy because it’s one of the few dairies left that produces ice cream “the old-fashioned way.” The Sweet Shoppe also carries old-fashioned candy and glass bottles of Coca-Cola.

It could be said their business is run the old-fashioned way, too, with several family members involved.

Rachel’s mother, Diana Grose, works at the store baking cakes, cupcakes and other treats, and her sister Sheila can often be found behind the counter, serving customers. Her father, Jim, who is now retired, is an essential part of the business, helping with special orders and assembling candy kebabs and chocolate suckers. Rachel and Andy’s daughters, Phoebe, Grace and Gwendolyn, are fixtures as well, all with a keen interest in the store. “My middle daughter, Grace, is here all the time – she knows the cash register better than us!” Rachel says with a laugh. “But they all help package things, serve customers and scoop ice cream.”

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Homemade truffles are one of the Sweet Shoppe’s bestsellers.
 
Customer favourites include the salted caramel cupcake, which Rachel says is her personal pick. The chocolate-and-caramel-covered pretzels and homemade turtles are big sellers, and Diana notes that mini-cupcakes and homemade chocolate chip cookies have been big hits lately, too. “But no matter what time of year, we always sell tons of truffles,” Rachel says. “We didn’t think in the summer we would sell as many but they’re great for gifts.” Truffles can be packed in chocolate gift boxes and made in different shapes and designs according to the season. McFarland’s has received truffle orders from around North America.

Other special orders include wedding favours, cakes and cupcakes for all occasions, which is where Diana’s talent shines. And a large part of their sales comes from fundraising programs, which have been a great hit with local schools. “Each season there’s a different insert in our standard catalogue. The group makes 30 per cent of whatever they sell so it’s a really good return,” Rachel says. Schools can also get involved by participating in a School Saturdays program, through which a school can sign up for any Saturday throughout the school year, and the school will make 10 per cent of the profit from the day’s sales. “Of course, the Saturdays around the holidays book up really quickly!” Rachel says. “It benefits the school, but it also benefits us since it’s bringing in people that haven’t come to see our store yet. It’s supporting our community, which is really big for us.”

The Sweet Shoppe takes pride in the community and loyalty they have built around their business. In a push to support local, it’s the little things that stand out, Diana says. “When we sell a cupcake and it’s for a birthday, we’ll give them a candle. It’s just a little thing, but it means a lot to the customer.” And creating a business around what they love to do has proven to be a great success. When asked what they love most about their job, Rachel and Diana both had similar answers. “I get to work with Rachel and Sheila and it’s something that I’ve always, always wanted to do,” Diana says. “We love working together,” Rachel adds. But the best part, she says, is the reaction they get from customers. “So many people are so stressed out all the time. Customers come in and have that childlike joy in something so little. Seeing how happy it makes them and giving them something they haven’t seen since they were a kid, it’s wonderful.”

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