By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Karla Solomon knows it sounds bizarre, but she acknowledges still owning a candy cane made at Minerva Candy Co. just before it closed about five years ago.
“It’s in my refrigerator,” said Solomon, 65, who showed up for lunch Thursday at Minerva’s grand reopening. “I guard it. It’s just so I can have a piece of that past. I grew up in the Minerva. It’s a special, special place.”
Solomon wasn’t alone: A steady stream of Webb City area residents who came through the doors Thursday, starting with coffee at 7 a.m. and continuing through the lunch hour, recalled vivid childhood memories of time spent in the historic downtown store.
“I came to the bakery every morning before school to get a cream horn,” said Karen Boyd, 55, in reference to the space attached to the candy store that has been converted to a deli. “I ate it on my way to school — boy, what a sugar rush.”
Boyd has been among numerous residents who have been stopping by Minerva regularly in the past year to watch the renovation progress.
Last year, Webb City residents Tom and Mary Hamsher purchased the abandoned store from Duke Mallos, whose family had owned it since 1921.
For 15 months, they worked on renovating it from top to bottom, including two loft apartments above the candy store that in recent weeks have been rented. In addition to converting the former bakery to a deli, they outfitted the candy store with a coffee bar and homemade ice cream bar. In November, they will begin making the iconic hard candy.
Among the highlights of the deli side of the store is a player piano built in 1903. The Hamshers purchased it, as well as about 100 rolls of music, at an auction in Ohio and had it refurbished. Tom Hamsher was accommodating when he was asked by patrons to demonstrate it during the lunch hour.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” Boyd said. “I think it will be a great asset. It gives us someplace new to eat in the downtown, keeps money in Webb, and it brings back a little of our past.
“I can’t wait until the candy starts. I’m planning on getting some and shipping it to family in California.”
The candy will be made using the company’s original candy equipment, which has been overhauled and repainted. At one time, the store churned out 25,000 candy canes, according to Mallos.
“I went to McAuley High School, and as a fundraiser we’d sell candy canes,” recalled Pam Drake, 49, who joined Solomon on Thursday for soup and a sandwich. “The Minerva made us special blue and white ones for our school colors.”
Solomon, who was close to the Mallos family, remembered helping out at the store by pulling candy during the busy seasons.
“And I remember at Easter them making large chocolate eggs, and they’d write your name in icing on the top,” she said. “They were such a treat.”
The store looks much the same as it did, Solomon noted, thanks to the careful preservation of the pressed tin ceiling, tile floor and original cases.
“They’ve done a great, great job,” she said. “This is the way I remember it looking.”
Tom Hamsher said he has 21 employees on the payroll, and he was pleased by the reaction of the community to the opening.
“We’ve had a steady stream,” he said. “The phone’s been ringing. It’s been great.”
Among the visitors was Mayor John Biggs, 71, who stopped by at lunch to congratulate the Hamshers on their success.
“I remember sitting at the counter at age 6 having ice cream,” Biggs said. “And now it’s back again. It’s fantastic. I’m loving it.”
Minerva will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
“We’re hoping this is just what our downtown needs,” Tom Hamsher said.
A NEW ADDITION to Minerva Candy Co. is the Bearded Lady Roasters, a two-man coffee company recently founded by Joplin residents Adam Francis and Zach Sewell. The company lightly roasts its own coffee beans and specializes in traditional Italian espresso drinks. “It was a perfect fit,” Francis said. “They needed coffee, and we needed a place.”