At 10, Devon Flesor felt like a big shot when her parents let her skip school and make chocolate Easter bunnies at Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, Ill. (pop. 4,448). Today, all grown up, Devon Nau feels even more pride as she makes candy on the marble table used by her grandfather and father.
“Every day, people thank us for reopening,” says Nau, 44. In August 2004, she and her sister, Ann Flesor Beck, reopened the old-fashioned candy store with its soda fountain and luncheonette started by their grandfather, Gus Flesor, in 1901. Their parents, Betty and Paul Flesor, ran the store until 1975.
Although nearly 30 years had passed, the Flesor sisters found and bought back the original fixtures—the marble soda fountain, wooden booths and Tiffany-style lamps. Amazingly, every fountain stool, copper kettle and glass candy case had been warehoused by the antique dealer who bought the building.
“He’d negotiate to sell them, and the deal would fall through,” Nau says. “We felt as though he was waiting for us.”
Call it providence—the sisters do—because they were able to bring back Grandpa’s candy store just the way it used to be and to rekindle memories for an entire town.
Randy Hastings, 45, a local real estate agent, remembers peeking in the candy cases as a child and seeing them all frilled up for Easter with chocolate bunnies, chicks, lambs and the store specialty—hollow eggs filled with hand-dipped chocolate creams with the customer’s name written in icing.
“Growing up, Dad would get us five kids the big chocolate rabbits and eggs with our names and hide them around the house,” Hastings says. Today, he carries on the tradition and hides a chocolate Easter egg with “Turner” written on it for his 6-year-old son.
“I don’t know of anyone else who still personalizes the eggs,” Nau says.
The sisters use their grandfather’s recipes for 40 varieties of candy—chocolates, divinity, caramels, toffee, horehound—made with real butter, heavy cream and Guittard chocolate. Nau’s son, Nick, 16, makes most of the homemade ice cream and her younger children, Alexis, 7, and Paul, 5, stand on milk crates to chop walnuts in a hand-cranked grinder.
“It’s as good a chocolate as you’ll find,” says customer Bill Carson, 59, who sends the hand-dipped chocolate cashews to his brothers on both coasts. “My brothers bite into them and it’s like they’re 12 and 13 again.”
Carson recalls riding his bike to Flesor’s after grade school and savoring an ice cream sundae with his parents after church. “Everything is original, right back to the wooden telephone booth,” he says. “You can sit there and remember your high school girlfriend and the booth you sat in.” Memories like these tugged at the Flesor sisters soon after 9/11 when they noticed that the vacant, ramshackle building was for sale. “We couldn’t wait to get out of Tuscola in the ’70s,” says Beck, 52. “Dad never insisted that we work in the store.” She ended up on the East Coast working as a management consultant; Nau stayed closer to home and taught English at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (pop. 21,039).
Yet, seeing the old store for sale with “Flesor Bros” visible under the grime in blue and white mosaic tiles in the entryway underscored where they belonged.
“To me, this was home,” Beck says. “It was about getting back to the fundamentals.” Sitting at her mother’s table, “I started this whole big speech about ‘if you could do anything with your life,’” Beck says. “My mother leaned over in the middle of the speech and said, ‘You want to buy the store, don’t you?’” Nau quickly added, “I do, too.”
With personal savings, loans and grants, the sisters revived the building from top to bottom—from a new roof and restored tin ceiling to new sewer pipes and heating. As they worked alongside contractors, they left the front door open so townspeople could check the progress of the building.
“They’d walk in and tell us about the place and say, ‘In 1935, the cigars were over here,’” Nau says. Sometimes, old-timers would argue about the location of certain store fixtures.
“Everybody in town appreciates the efforts of the Flesor girls,” Hastings says. “We all get to relive our childhood memories.”
Visit www.flesorscandy.com for more information.