OSHKOSH (WITI) — Nowadays, words like ‘traditional’ or ‘old-fashioned’ can mean — not as good as it once was, but there’s a business in Oshkosh that has embraced its humble beginnings. In 70 years of operation, little has changed — other than the number of confections made!
There is a house in Oshkosh that looks like any other — except it’s nothing like the neighbors.
To know what’s inside 1823 Doty Street is to descend into sweetness.
Inside the home, is Hughes Made Chocolates.
Tom Hughes is the guy in charge.
“My grandparents started the business back in 1942, officially,” Hughes said.
In the beginning, there was only one copper pot, and a few marble slabs. Each and every chocolate was made by hand.
In 70 years, the company’s upgrades have been modest.
“I always say we are a factory on a small scale,” Hughes said.
Eventually, Hughes industrialized as much as possible.
“We kept making little changes, but every time we brought in something new, we were like ‘where are we going to put it?’” Hughes said.
You can count on one hand the seconds it takes to walk through Hughes’ production floor.
The business, built from the ground up, has never left the home’s basement.
“Opening up the door like Dorothy did when she landed in OZ. They come in and they are like ‘Holy Cow! Look at all this stuff in here!’” Hughes said.
Whatever space isn’t occupied by machines is populated by people.
Hughes has 11 full-time employees — including recent hire Jason Thiel.
“I chew a lot of gum — otherwise I would be snacking all day!” Thiel said.
So what does it take to get a job with Wisconsin’s most exclusive chocolate factory?
Jason Thiel had an EIGHT-YEAR interview!
“I delivered their aprons and towels and rugs and stuff — so I knew him for quite a few years,” Thiel said.
37-year-old Thiel was running laundry to and from Hughes every week — and he developed a reputation.
“Kind of got to know him a little bit. He seemed like a pretty good worker so I asked him if he wanted to work here and lucky for me he decided to,” Hughes said.
Thiel never imagined one of the many spots on his laundry route would end up a permanent home.
“I think I pretty much found a retirement job,” Thiel said.
As it turns out, creating confections isn’t a bad job to have!
Even on a slow day, the clientele is as loyal as the confections are addicting.
You can’t buy just one pound!
Jim Baird showed up recently to purchase THIRTY-FIVE pounds! That’s $400 worth of chocolate!
“Ten pounds of it is going to North Carolina, and ten pounds is going to Virginia,” Baird said.
The remainder of Baird’s batch was intended for his employees in Neenah.
Some loyal customers have been walking down the steps at the home on Doty Street for half-a-century!
“We have a lot. I’m third generation making the candy. There’s a lot of third generation customers. That said, they came down with their grandparents and they are continuing to come down,” Hughes said.
Hughes’ popularity has soared over seven decades — with thousands visiting each year.
“Depending on what we are making, we make anywhere between 650 and 1,100 pounds of candy a day. That`s quite a bit for this small little place here,” Hughes said.
Another unique tidbit about his business: Hughes has never advertised. He doesn’t even have a website.
“It’s pretty much word-of-mouth,” Hughes said.
That makes perfect sense for those who have tried a Hughes-made chocolate.
“I’ve always said ‘if we make it, they will come,’” Hughes said.