Firefighter's toffee recipe ignites founding of Dave's Sweet Tooth
Handmade toffee proving popular in firehouse finds national audience.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into business early in life…,” says Andrew Chmielewski, owner of Dave’s Sweet Tooth, who was just recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30, “…and what better way to do it, than with my dad, who is someone I have looked up to my whole life.”
Chmielewski’s father (and his product’s namesake, Dave) is a retired Detroit firefighter known at the station for his homemade toffee. What started out as making his father’s famous almond toffee as holiday gifts for the guys at the engine house turned into a response unlike anything they had seen before. Chmielewski saw the demand that his father’s toffee was creating, and it quickly became a full-time job.
In 2011, with a few homemade labels, some Ball mason jars and an initial investment of $10,000, he launched Dave’s Sweet Tooth (DST).
“We started local and at craft shows and people just continued to help spread the word,” Chmielewski says.
It wasn’t until early 2016 that DST garnered national notoriety with appearances on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” and Dave’s Sweet Tooth was popping up in homes and businesses across the country.
On each package, there’s a company creed: “We keep it simple. Fancy is too complicated. Real butter, real sugar, real milk chocolate, and hand sliced almonds prepared with love, one batch at a time. Consistency is the key to our recipe. We don’t stockpile our ingredients. We purchase them according to order size to ensure freshness and maintain taste integrity. Maybe a bit old fashioned, but we do not use machines, microwaves, or assembly lines to produce our toffee.”
When asked how they keep up with orders, Chmielewski simply says, “We make a lot of batches.”
Refusing to stray from tradition, Dave’s Sweet Tooth is and always will be; Hand Made. Homemade. Michigan Made.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
Anything with peanut butter! Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are probably my all-time favorite.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
We recently launched our new website and modified it to allow customers to create their own subscriptions!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It’s always easier to answer that question when you are five years old. You know exactly what you want when things like money and notoriety are non-issues. My dad was a firefighter, so I’ve always looked up to him and wanted to be just like him.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
The rising cost of quality ingredients is a huge concern for every industry, but I think it has an especially large impact on our types of products. It’s important for us to continue to use the highest quality ingredients, while simultaneously finding ways to keep our product costs affordable to our customer demographic.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
The Four-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. Coincidentally this is probably one of my top 3 favorite books of all time and it is one of the books that got me started in business. I always like to revisit it from time to time as a refresher on some of the ideas expressed, many of which I still utilize today.
If given the chance to choose anyone, whom would you like to collaborate with?
Oprah or Martha Stewart. Both have done a tremendous job building their brands over the years and I feel like they would be great mentors.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A business advisor of mine once told me: “It’s one thing to get on a store shelf, but getting off of a store shelf consistently is where a food business will find success.”
What excites you most about your job?
Sharing our product and our story with new customers is the absolute best part of my job. The reactions I get when someone tastes our toffee for the first time are priceless.