Sometimes you just want a little something sweet: a chocolate or caramel, a jawbreaker or jelly beans.
Now several locally owned shops have banded together to create the Sugar and Spice Trail, a fun way to explore the small-town charms of northern Kentucky and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time.
KET’s The Local Traveler set out on the trail to learn what tempting treats can be found along the way.
Six businesses comprise the Sugar and Spice Trail that stretches about 30 miles from Fort Thomas in Campbell County to Hebron in Boone County. Two stops on the trail are owned by members of the Schneider family, a name long associated with candy making in northern Kentucky.
A Home for Opera Creams
For nearly eight decades Schneider’s Sweet Shop in Bellevue has served up handmade chocolates, fudge, and ice cream. Owner Jack Schneider uses the same equipment and recipes that his father handed down to him. Schneider says eating chocolate is an occupational hazard.
“It’s all in your mind if you think that candy’s not good for you,” says Schneider. “I’m not 200 pounds and I eat probably half a pound to a pound of candy a day… I eat a lot of candy.”
A specialty of the shop is a candy called Opera Creams. They have a center made of pure cream, milk, and sugar, wrapped in either a dark or milk chocolate coating. Schneider says a German candy maker was believed to have created the candy in the 1920s for the Cincinnati Opera.
All these years later, Opera Creams are still a favorite with customers in the tri-state area. Schneider says sales of this all-natural candy comprise 30 percent of their business.
Just down the street from Schneider’s is Witt’s End Candy Emporium, a shop packed with barrels and glass jars filled with 375 different types of candy.
“We looked around and there was nothing really in this area for vintage or old-fashioned candy,” says owner Jack Witt. So he and his wife decided to fill that niche and open a shop where, as he says, anyone can be a kid again.
Children and adults can find caramel creams called Bulls Eyes, shockingly red French Burnt Peanuts, Jelly Belly jelly beans, Moon Pies, cotton candy, wax lips, candy necklaces, and other nostalgic treats. If they don’t already stock a particular treat, Witt says he’ll do custom searches for candies that customers remember from their childhoods.
Sweet Options in Newport
Over in Newport another member of the Schneider family operates Sweet Tooth Candies.
“I was born with chocolate in my veins,” jokes chocolatier Bob Schneider, who is Jack’s older brother. “I’ve always been making ice cream and chocolates… I’ll be 75 and I don’t see it ending soon.”
Sweet Tooth also sells Opera Creams and other handmade chocolates along with fudge, caramels, ice cream, and a concoction called Ice Balls. That’s a combination snow cone and ice cream cone that includes balls of shaved ice, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and squirts of house-made flavorings like the perennially popular cherry syrup. Schneider says people line up in the summer months to cool off with an Ice Ball.
Up on the levee near the Newport Aquarium, you’ll find the fourth stop on the Sugar and Spice Trail, the Sweet Dreams Candy Company . Customers can browse a wide assortment of candies available for purchase by the pound, or enjoy fudge, cookies, brownies, ICEEs, and Dippin’ Dots ice cream.
The Secret of Spices
The spice part of the Sugar and Spice Trail is supplied by high-tech entrepreneur turned culinary adventurer De Stewart. He guides customers through the 500 culinary herbs, spices, and spice blends available in his Colonel De’s shop in Fort Thomas.
Stewart had several culinary influences as a child growing up in Louisville. His family’s home was a frequent stopover for friends and relatives traveling between eastern Kentucky and jobs in northern industrial cities. He says these members of what he calls the “Hillbilly Diaspora” would fill his mother’s kitchen will all kinds of exotic smells as they cooked meals for the family.
Stewart was also a frequent visitor to his grandfather’s fish and poultry market. But perhaps his biggest influence was a man he befriended at his church: Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
“That’s truly where I learned about the secret myths of spices because, honestly, if you take away his 11 herbs and spices, what do you have? Fried chicken, nothing special,” says Stewart. “But if you add that mystery, if you add those spices in, all of a sudden you’ve got something so dynamic and wonderful that people want to try it.”
After a career in information technology, Stewart began to sell his own spice blends at farmers’ markets around Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. That eventually led a permanent shop in Fort Thomas, where he sells bulk spices and custom-blends for any culinary taste.
Chocolates Across the Commonwealth
Head out to Hebron for the final stop on the Sugar and Spice Trail. That’s where Richard Ross has a production facility and retail shop for his Galerie Candy & Gifts. Ross is a recent inductee into the Candy Hall of Fame. He specializes in treats made for national brands like Disney and Marvel comics.
Even if you can’t make it to northern Kentucky, other parts of the state have wonderful opportunities to indulge in handcrafted confections. In Louisville, there’s Cellar Door Chocolates and Muth’s Candies, which is home to a caramel-covered marshmallow treat called Modjeskas.
In Frankfort there’s Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, where bourbon balls originated. Or head over to Old Kentucky Chocolates in Lexington to try their 100-proof bourbon cherry candies.
And in Mount Sterling, there’s the Ruth Hunt Candy Company, the official candy maker of the Kentucky Derby. Their specialty is a “sophisticated candy bar” called the Blue Monday, which features pulled cream candy covered in dark chocolate.