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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Family business in Newport’s Westside caters to international customers’ sweet tooth

Bob Arthauer of Newport browses the selection at local confectionery Sweet Tooth Candies while employee Monika Kenney prepares an order at the counter. (Photo by Ronny Salerno)

By Kelsey Patterson
Special to KyForward
Spring has sprung and nowhere more visibly than at Newport’s Sweet Tooth Candies nestled on the corner at 125 W. 11th Street. Since back in the winter before Valentine’s Day, the tables at Sweet Tooth Candies have been lined with colorfully decorated bunnies in a multitude of sizes. Brightly packaged eggs competed for buyers’ attention.
And the best part? They are all made of pure, homemade chocolate.
“We use the best chocolate we can get. It’s expensive but outstanding, and our customers really love it,” said Bob Schneider, the Sweet Tooth’s founder, proprietor and chief candy maker.

(Photo by Ronny Salerno)

Schneider has been in the candy business all his life, beginning when he was just 18 and worked at a chocolates store that he eventually owned and later sold. In 1970, he opened the Sweet Tooth on the corner of Ann and 11th Street, where it still operates today.
Newport’s Westside is one of Northern Kentucky’s oldest neighborhoods and, these days, one of its poorest. But it remains a neighborhood rich with family-owned businesses, from corner grocers to taverns to dog groomers to car repair shops. But few if any have the regional notoriety of the Sweet Tooth. It’s a routine stop for gift-givers at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Sweetest Day, Mother’s Day and Easter. Online sales offer a full range of boxed candies and a second shop, operated by Schneider’s brother, is open in bustling Bellevue.

(Photo by Ronny Salerno)

As the Sweet Tooth brand expanded, Schneider purchased 5,400 square feet on Saratoga Street as his candy factory to keep up with the demand. Factory may be a bit misleading. Schneider’s approach remains small batch and hands-on. “I could give you all of the recipes and materials for every chocolate we make and it still wouldn’t taste right. Chocolate making is a craft. It’s in your blood,” he said.
Among greater Cincinnati customers, the chocolate of choice is the Sweet Tooth’s dark opera creams with their melt-in-your-mouth center of cream and sugar. Small milk chocolate turtles are also one of the shop’s most popular choices. It’s not all about the chocolate, though. The factory produces nearly 75,000 pounds of hand-crafted chocolate per year but also between 40 to 50 types of candies.
“If you’re going to survive in this business, you need to make candy and ice cream,” Schneider said. “Chocolate keeps you going during the holidays and cooler months, but ice cream boosts sales in the summer.”
Along with chocolates, candies and ice cream, there’s another product that draws people in the door, especially as the heat and humidity arrive: the ice ball. This signature but seasonal treat is only available at the Sweet Tooth from April 1 to Sweetest Day in October. It’s a made-from-scratch snow cone that can be ordered with or without ice cream in the center and in the fruity flavor of your choice.

Employee Monika Kenney weighs a box of candy fruit slices while preparing an order. (Photo by Ronny Salerno)

Sweet Tooth employs about a dozen people, all of whom Schneider considers capable of creating, decorating, packaging and selling the Sweet Tooth line. Jan Chandler, the store’s “new girl,” recalls spending a recent afternoon in the store wrapping peanut butter-filled milk chocolate eggs, which she had dipped at the factory hours earlier. Schneider considers his employees as close members of his family. “Many of them started working for me when they were high-school or college-aged. They’ve been here a long time,” he said.
Dottie Minderman has worked at Sweet Tooth for nearly 12 years. “I left for a while but then came back. It’s a great place to be in Newport and the customers are wonderful. I enjoy coming in to work every day,” she said. “I see families who come in all the time. We know about their lives and always have things to talk about.”
Schneider says most customers prefer to taste and purchase their sweet treats in the shop, though the company has been shipping chocolate across the world online for nearly 20 years. Families from Ft. Thomas to Cincinnati enjoy shopping in Sweet Tooth, and the regular customers help make the store a successful site.
“The biggest problem in business isn’t how much you sell, but how much you keep. Our customers are happy and they’re nice to us. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” said Schneider, who hopes to continue making candy for as long as possible to satisfy the shop’s loyal customers.
“I’m 70 years old and still looking at the future. I think the store will go on for a long time because people enjoy it. It’s a great place to bring a family.”
Sweet Tooth Candies is open Monday thru Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 12-10 p.m. For more information or to place an order online, click here or call toll free at 1-877-581-5132.
Kelsey Patterson wrote this story as part of an assignment for her public relations course, PRE 376. The class wrote feature stories on people and places in Newport’s Westside neighborhood, an inner-city area. NKU is focusing on the Westside this year, connecting academic work to a neighborhood project.