Vande Walle’s Candies is famous for its Anglefood candy, which features an extremely light and airy honeycomb-textured center that ensures it will just melt in your mouth — no chewing required.
It also goes back more than 75 years to when Grandma Vande Walle would bake and create candy in her kitchen. Her son, Don Sr., continued the tradition and soon he and his wife, Norma, were creating delectable treats for their growing family and some very lucky friends. Everything was always made from scratch and irresistible.
Norma also had a gift for producing exceptional baked goods and had often mused aloud, “Would’t it be fun to have a bakery?”
Her dream came true in 1974 with their purchase of Mehlberg Bakery in Shawano, Wisconsin. Alongside the full line of baked goods, the Vande Walles began selling their time-tested candies — the first of which was Grandma Vande Walle’s popcorn balls.
The demand for Vande Walle’s candies soon outpaced the space available in the bakery, leading to the 1987 construction of their current manufacturing and retail facility in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Today, it is operated by brothers Don Jr., Steve and Tom Vande Walle, and their family business employs 45 people year round, and up to 60 during the holidays.
They offer more than 95 varieties of fine chocolates and hand-crafted confections, along with a line of sugar-free candies, award-winning bakery products, and Vande Walle’s own premium quality ice cream.
The secret family recipes developed and handed down over the years are still used; each batch of candy is still cooked the old-fashioned way in copper kettles; and all Vande Walle products are made right at the store.
Steve Vande Walle recently took some time to talk about why sugar policy is a huge concern for him and who his dream collaborator would be.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
Milk chocolate covered Angelfood (sponge) candy. It has been my favorite since childhood. Every year on Christmas morning I would rush out to the living room to see if Santa came and then head into the kitchen to start eating the bowl of Angelfood candy in the center of the kitchen table. It is still my favorite candy today.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
I recently was in the market for a new cycling light, and I came across a micro cycling light — a one-inch square — that can be seen over a mile away. This one was pretty cool.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A carpenter. When I was little I always liked building things. Now, instead of building with wood, I have the opportunity to create products with the finest chocolates in the world. This is truly a great industry to be in (and I don’t have to wear a tool belt every day).
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
Sugar supports have been causing issues in our industry for decades. It is hard for large U.S.-based confectionery companies to be competitive when their major ingredient, sugar, costs more in the U.S. than it does on the world market. The lack of available workers is also causing hardships for many confectionery manufacturers, driving up labor costs at a faster than normal pace.
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
Charles Flavelle. During his career Charles built Purdy’s Chocolates of Vancouver, British Columbia, into a major confectionery retailing force, opening and operating more than 75 retail stores in western Canada under his leadership. More importantly than his business endeavors, though, Charles is a true gentleman of highest character and integrity.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Life is what you make it, always has been, always will be.
What excites you most about your job?
Being able to work with my wife Tess, my brothers Tom and Don, and my mother Norma in our family business. Going in to work every day isn’t work for me, it’s an adventure waiting to unfold.