BY DENNIS BARTLOW
DANA, Ind. —
The small western Indiana community of Dana, Ind., is more than just the birthplace of World War II journalist Ernie Pyle.
A mother-daughter combination is making candy that is putting this town on the map.
Brooke’s Candy Co. has become popular near and far.
As a teenager, Brooke Schmidt made the mints for her sister’s wedding. A neighbor asked her to make more — and that got her interested in candy making.
First, however, she graduated from South Vermillion High School in 1991 and moved to northern Illinois to join the work force.
She never forgot her dream of having her own candy store. She moved back to the Dana area in 2002.
The dream became a reality when Schmidt and her mother, Donna Thompson, and her sister, Dana Vicars, agreed on all-natural Belgian chocolate as the basis for their candy.
“I started by making toffee at home,” Schmidt said. “I told my Mom and sister we had to sell it.” They started by selling candy in an antique store/restaurant in Clinton.
“We make everything,” Schmidt said. “Everything is our own recipes. I taught myself.”
The candy operation now is out of the home where she grew up. Her parents still live there. They added a commercial kitchen on the back, and the parlor is now their display shop.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” said Schmidt’s mother, Donna Thompson. “It has taken a life of its own.”
Schmidt said when it comes to fudge, it is her mother’s recipe, and her mother makes all the fudge.
But both spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
“We have an assistant who helps in the kitchen,” Schmidt said. Schmidt’s sister has a full-time job elsewhere and is not an active participant anymore.
“We call her the consultant,” Schmidt said.
“We make everything with real cream and butter. There are no preservatives,” she said. “I am here every day of the week. I am teaching my helper to be a truffle roller.”
Schmidt and her husband, Doug, and two children live in Hillsdale.
“We get swamped on the holidays,” Schmidt said. They closed after Christmas and re-opened last week for the Valentine’s Day rush.
People drive a distance to buy candy at the little shop. On their first day open this year, a man drove from Newman, Ill., to buy candy there. They routinely field phone calls from the Danville and Terre Haute areas.
Almond toffee and peanut butter fudge are their top sellers.
They are open extended hours during the Ernie Pyle Festival in Dana in August and take their candy on the road to nearby festivities. They don’t go to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival anymore, but signs guide their followers to Dana.
“People will drive to find us,” she said. “We go to the Applefest at Covington, and we make more there in one day than anywhere else.”
They have branched out and now sell products at two or three locations in Terre Haute.
They will be featured at the third annual Indiana Artisan Marketplace April 6-7 at the Expo Hall at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. They are juried into the Indiana Artisan organization for brownies, cocoa toffee and fudge.
The mother-daughter operation is now moving to the next level, which is in wholesale business. They have developed a gluten-free brownie mix that a carmel salesperson is marketing for them. It is available at Nature’s Pharm stores in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Greenwood, in addition to the Dana shop.
“We think the mix is going to take us to the next level,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and Thompson are proud of their hometown.
“We want to bring people to Dana,” Schmidt said.
Brooke’s Candy Co. is located on Indiana Route 71 at 247 Maple St. Store hours are 11 a.m. to 5 pm. EST Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Call (765) 665-2046 or check the website at http://www:brookescandyco.com