Pat and Toni both worked in the real estate industry for most of their adult lives. Pat -that's him- was on the development side of real estate and branched into the selling side. Toni -that's her- was on the design side.
"If you were building a house in Volusia, Lake, Marion or Flagler Counties you had to see me," she says.
Of course, in recent years, the real estate business hasn't been so bright. For Toni it meant her division closing down. For a short time, they kept her on, until they moved all operations to the Orlando offices. For Pat, it meant no contracts coming in for new buildings, so no need for contractors.
Pat had always wanted to own a store. He's a vegetarian and wanted to open a fruit and veggies store. It would be like going to an ice cream shop, but customers would have their choice of fresh apples, strawberries, cantaloupe, and such, instead of Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.
That changed one day as Pat strolled through downtown Deland. Someone mentioned a store was for sale down there, and Pat stopped in to peek through the windows. He was intrigued enough to meet with the sellers.
"Honey," he announced to Toni later, "I think we're gonna own a candy store."
That candy store started life as Candy Castle, and it wasn't downtown in the beginning. It used to be in a small building near the old theater off New York Avenue. A few years ago, it moved to downtown, where more traffic meant -they hoped-more business. Candy Castle was an established business from up north, and the owners brought it down to Deland when they moved here.
There have been 5 owners since then. And Pat and Toni make number six. The store is no longer Candy Castle, but Pat & Toni's Sweet Things.
Stepping into Sweet Things is like going back in time. One recalls dashing through the neighborhood to the candy lady with just a few coins jingling in your pocket. You knew it was enough to buy penny candy, bubble gum, maybe even a pickle.
Sweet Things took me pleasantly by surprise. I didn't expect to be excited by the Now & Laters©, Sugar Daddys© and packets of Big League Chew© bubble gum. All the offerings available had me smiling while my 11 year old son shopped for sugary goodness.
I went back two weeks later and caught Toni -that's her- in a quiet moment. It was the week before Valentine's Day, and she was busy concocting unique goodies in the back room. She wore a glove, an apron, and a smile. Her enthusiasm is contagious. It's obvious she works hard, and even more obvious she's determined to keep Sweet Things running despite our current economy.
The walls of candy include packaged and bulk sweets for sale. The display case is full of white, dark and milk chocolate treats like fudge, truffles, brownies and chocolate-dipped Twinkies©.
Toni told me about the Patriotic Twinkies© Pat made -red, white and blue with tiny candy "stars". A group bought them all to celebrate with newly naturalized friends.
It isn't just calories for sale at Sweet Things. Pat and Toni have customers who come in with their children and point out all the "retro" candy lining the shelves. The mirrors behind the counter reflect row upon row of confections from bygone days, as well as an International Wall of Licorice and another for chocolate. One regular customer comes in to buy the small packets of retro mints for sale just under the cash register. She doesn't eat them. She keeps them in her purse, just like her grandmother used to when she was a child.
Sweet Things is not just a candy store. It's a walk down memory lane.
For five months now, Pat and Toni have worked to keep Deland's best known candy store in business. Most locals still call it Candy Castle, but the new owners indulge most of us. Whatever we call them, we all know where to go to revisit our childhoods.
So if you have plans to visit the Central Florida area, don't forget to stop by Deland. This small and busy town is about thirty minutes out of Orlando, and about the same from Daytona Beach. Pat and Toni will be glad to see you, and share what, for them, has truly become the sweet side of life.
Central Florida's Candy Castle Under New Management
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sweet Things in Deland
By Paisley Ravenm, has truly become the sweet side of life.