Minerva Candy Company still has its original equipment, including copper kettles and vintage thermometers, which date back to the shop’s start more than 100 years ago.
WEBB CITY – Even though it’s been shuttered since 2014, sunlight still smiles through the windows at Minerva Candy Company. It doesn’t look like the kitchen knows anything has changed: It’s chock full of vintage candy-making equipment, just as it’s been since the shop took over the building in 1913.
“Everything is still here but the business,” says Mary Hamsher, who owns the building with her husband, Tom. “And the people.”
After trying their hand at running the shop, the Hamshers decided that perhaps it wasn’t for them. Now they’re ready to give someone else a shot at preserving this local landmark: The building, and all its contents, are for sale.
“We just want to keep it alive,” says Hamsher. “It’s just that the right person has got to come in here to keep it and appreciate it.”
Minerva’s story is a long one: The shop was opened in 1905 by the Klenkious family, who launched stores in Joplin, Carthage and Webb City after moving to the Ozarks — by way of St. Louis — from Greece.
In 1921, the Mallos family purchased the Webb City business. The efforts were led by patriarch Jim Mallos, also from Greece, who was introduced to the art of candy making as a child.
Even though it’s been more than 35 years since he set foot in the candy kitchen, most of it looks very similar to his last day at work. He designed the room himself, said a newspaper article from 1980, and he took special pride in how it was laid out. “Every time you take a step, you’ve done something,” he said back then of the candy making process.
Under his leadership, the family made dozens of varieties of candy: The store specialized in chocolate and other confectionary items until 1952, when hard candy hit the store. And come Christmas, its famous candy canes became large — both in size and popularity. “They had lots of orders — big orders,” says Hamsher. “They sold to the hospitals and big businesses.”
Mallos continued making the sweet stuff into his 90s before he passed away in 1981. The family operated the business until 1995, when it was closed. Ten years later, it temporarily reopened in celebration of Minerva’s centennial.
The Hamshers came into the picture in 2011, when they purchased the aging building with hopes of restoring it and bringing the business back to life.
Rehabbing the building turned out to be the easy part: Among other things, the couple addressed heat and air conditioning, added new wiring, plumbing and electrical and gave everything a nice new coat of paint.
The Hamshers also remodeled the second floor into two apartments, revamped the exterior, restored the original tin ceilings and tile floor and found people to bring the vintage candy-making equipment back to par.
They even remodeled an adjoining building — used by the previous owners for storage and candy packaging — into a seating area so they could have more space to start serving up food.
Tom and Mary Hamsher completely remodeled Minerva Candy Company, but kept original features such as the blue-and-white tile floor, cabinetry, pressed tin ceiling and wall decor.
Despite their efforts — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — things just didn’t take off as they’d planned. “We thought when we restored it, (people) would come back,” says Hamsher. “And they did. But not enough.”
Part of the problem is probably location: In the past, Webb City’s downtown district was much livelier than it is today. “There’s not a lot of businesses open down here, so we just didn’t have the people to come (shop),” says Hamsher, who also notes that the stop’s close proximity to really Route 66 didn’t make difference, either. “It’s half a block off — and whatever’s off (the route), it’s off,” she says.
The Hamshers believe that the decor inside Minerva was the result of a kit.
One traveling-by customer, however, gave an interesting gift. The customer, a fellow candy store owner from Illinois, found that Minerva looked exactly the same as her shop back home. It seems that the store’s interior decorations — the tiles, the wall decor and the cabinetry — were purchased as a kit. The similarities continued out front: Both shops even had their name tiled near the doorway.
After trying to operate the business for around a year and a half, the couple decided to call it quits early in 2014. “Between Easter and Halloween, (we figured) that’s going to be a long dry spell,” says Hamsher. “So we just closed it and left everything as is.”
In the kitchen
Even though the candy store is closed, the Hamshers still make candy canes during the Christmas season. “It’s just to help keep it alive in people’s minds,” says Hamsher.
From left to right: Vintage thermometers and copper kettles, original Carthage-concrete tables, a taffy pull, and equipment that twists the candy into striped canes.
She walks through the kitchen, explaining how the process works.
First come the copper kettles, which are filled with sugar, corn syrup and water to make the basis for the canes.
“And then you throw it on this table to cool it down,” she says, pointing to the original Carthage marble slabs — two of ’em — which fill the center of the room. After it cools a bit, globs of the cooled concoction are removed to be colored, and a taffy puller-like machine helps aerate the rest, which turns it white.
“Then you put it on this machine, and it twirls it around like a rope,” says Hamsher of another piece of equipment that looks much like an old-fashioned rope maker. Scissors snip the soft candy into lengths — six sizes span from six to 48 inches — before they’re hand-crooked and set to cool completely before being packaged.
Along the way, other ingredients are added to give the four flavors which they made last year: Cinnamon, clove, wintergreen and peppermint, the latter which is still the clear favorite. “It takes a while to make a big ol’ batch of this,” says Hamsher, who notes that a batch equals around 45 pounds of candy. “You know, it’s not just 1-2-3.”
That said, Hamsher says that she and her husband will help whoever buys the business learn the ropes. “It’s not a difficult thing, but it’s not (an) every day thing,” she says. “It’s kind of a lost art.”
Interested in continuing a tradition?
Contact Tom and Mary Hamsher at 417-437-1862 or 417-850-5166 for more information about the business, or click here to learn more. The building can also be rented for special events.