The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 13, 2013

Historic candy company marking 100th birthday

WEBB CITY, Mo. — The Minerva Candy Co. will celebrate its 100th birthday today at 12 S. Main St., and by all accounts, she’s looking good for her age.

“This is a neat place,” said David Blankenship on Wednesday afternoon after he and his wife, Julie, and daughter, Laurie Crocker, had finished their lunch. “I like how they have preserved the old-time look of it. A lot of older buildings are falling down or burning up. This has really helped the revitalization of the downtown and our community.”

The company’s most recent owners, Tom and Mary Hamsher, completed renovations on the store a year ago.

Ironically, the only thing that remains on the “to do” list for the Hamshers is to begin making the hard candy — including one- and two-foot candy canes for the holiday season — that earned the company its reputation decades ago.

“We’re still waiting on that last piece of candy equipment,” Tom Hamsher said Wednesday. “It should arrive this week, and hopefully we can start making hard candy for Christmas.”

IN THE BEGINNING

John and Gus Klenkious opened the Minerva Candy Store in 1905 in St. Louis. They built the Webb City store in 1913. It was part of a group of stores in Joplin and Carthage that they sold to Jim Mallos in 1921.

Jim’s son, Gene, assisted him in the candy store. Gene married Jo Anne in 1945 and they had two sons: Jimmy and Richard, or “Duke,” Mallos. Jim Mallos and Gene both died in 1981, leaving Jo Anne to run the store. She died in 2008; only Duke survives.

The marble walls, mirrors, octagon tile floor, tin ceiling and antique cabinets are all unique and original to the candy store. In the candy kitchen, the marble tables, where generations of Mallos candy makers cooled fudge, still serve as the foundation for candy-making operations.

The Hamshers purchased the building and its contents from Duke and Tobi Mallos in 2011, along with the deli building next door that was a bookstore (circa 1910), a café (circa 1940s) and a bakery (circa 1980s and ’90s). Their intention from the beginning, Tom Hamsher said, was to once again produce hard candy.

The couple did much of the interior renovation work themselves, hauling out 14 tons of debris — all the while trying to bring the building up to modern standards while also preserving the historic look of it, including the pressed tin ceilings and original cabinetry and counters.

The Hamshers also restored the gas-fired cookers, huge copper kettles, and candy making equipment, and installed a glass window to allow guests to view the candy manufacturing.

But their operations have far exceeded just candy making. Early in 2013, they began putting on Saturday night music events.

“We’ve had groups, we’ve had individuals,” Tom Hamsher said. “Some play Christian rock, some play bluegrass or rock and roll. We had one guy come in and just want to play the piano.”

It’s been a popular addition to the downtown, where by 7 p.m. not much else is going on, he said.

“We’re booked for musicians four to five weeks out,” Tom Hamsher said. “And we usually get quite a good crowd.”

The new owners also added the option for groups to reserve their eatery for meetings, reunions and holiday parties, which also has been popular.

Mary Hamsher created an ice cream counter stocked with several flavors of her hand-dipped homemade ice cream. They installed a coffee bar with espresso and gourmet coffee drinks, and contracted with Signet Coffee Roasters in Pittsburg, Kan., to develop a signature flavor.

They began cranking out batches of confections — chocolate and peanut butter fudge, chocolate-dipped peanut clusters, and the like.

And they began selling branded souvenirs and gift items, like coffee mugs and T-shirts with the new Minerva logo.

What’s next?

“Things have kind of taken on a life of their own,” Tom Hamsher said of their rapid introduction of new facets of their business. “I guess what we’re focused on as the priority is to have a grand celebration on Saturday, and then we’ll get down to the business of turning out hard candy in time for the holidays.”

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