- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

SPENCER, Ind. (AP) - When Kristi Risk’s plan to make and sell chocolate-coated jerky disintegrated - the chocolate just would not adhere to the slick meat surface - she was disheartened, but not discouraged.

She awoke in the night with a new idea. “I thought about something I could produce in bulk, something I could do well. I thought about small pieces of fudge, dipping them in chocolate. Something bite-sized.”

She had grown up eating her mom’s fudge, sneaking pieces from trays during the Christmas holiday. And while attending the National Confectioners Association Sweets & Snacks Expo in 2014 scouting out her chocolate jerky initiative, she saw booths offering fudge. But none of it was bite-sized, chocolate-covered or as tasty as the fudge her mom, 83-year-old Doris Powell, has been making for decades.

Diamond K Sweets - “It’s grandma’s recipe, just like she always made it,” Risk proclaimed - was born.

And when she and her 20-year-old daughter, Kelsie, went to Chicago’s 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo in May, they took with them 20,000 5-gram pieces of brick-shaped, chocolate-dipped fudge.

“You should have seen Kelsie hand-dipping the white fudge ones all night before we left,” her mom said.

They call them Fudge O’Bits. The Risks make chocolate and peanut butter varieties, and also a vanilla fudge with pecan and toffee bits. Last week, they experimented with vanilla fudge infused with ground dehydrated oranges.

Kelsie Risk isn’t the only child in the family steeped in the fudge business. Her three brothers - 16-year-old DJ, 11-year-old Dillon and 8-year-old Devin - are up to their elbows in it as well. And dad David, an airplane mechanic, pitches in, and helps keep the new machine that coats the fudge pieces functioning.

The kids mix up the ingredients and use a sterilized drywall ruler to meticulously measure and cut uniform-sized pieces of finished fudge. They also help operate the enrober, a miniature candy assembly line machine that pours liquid chocolate over the fudge pieces as they pass under on a rack, the excess chocolate spilling into a bucket below, where it is funneled back up and used again.

The finished candies plop neatly onto 7-inch-wide parchment paper fed from a continuous roll. Someone at the end of the line cuts off a length of paper and places it on a nearby shelving unit so the pieces stuck to it can cure. They sit overnight before the packaging process begins.

The Risks also sell fudge dipped in white chocolate, and each piece must be hand-dipped because the enrober is loaded with brown chocolate. One business decision the family faces is whether to buy a second $24,000 machine. And if the enterprise takes off as they anticipate, a bigger machine with an $80,000 price tag will be needed.

Risk fully expects to reach her goal: to hand down a successful and local business to her kids while at the same time employing people in Owen County and keeping her mother’s fudge available for all.

She remembers when she told her mom in January about her plan. She was encouraged, but her mother could not understand why anyone would want to buy pre-packaged fudge. Why not just make a batch themselves?

“I told her that I had heard from a lot of people that their fudge didn’t turn out right, that it’s not creamy or that it doesn’t taste as good as they want,” Risk said. Her mom just shook her head.

But when her daughter and granddaughter returned from the 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo with an award naming bite-sized Fudge O’Bits one of the five most innovative new products among 300 in the specialty gourmet category, she was convinced the business has a future.

Kristi Risk decided to go big after a vice president from the Hershey chocolate company sought out their booth and put a piece of chocolate-dipped P’Nutti fudge in his mouth, then complimented her. “This,” he said, “is very good.”

Risk was beside herself with joy. “Then we noticed other people with Hershey name badges coming back to our booth to get a piece,” she said. “We were so excited.”

She got home and ordered 20,000 8-ounce Fudge O-Bits bags from a company in Texas and got the production line going. Each 8-ounce bag contains 46 to 50 bits of chocolate-covered fudge, which the Risks weigh out on a scale and put into bags, which they seal with a special machine.

They have set up shop in the back of the closed Muffin Top Restaurant in downtown Spencer, at 4 W. Market St. They open up for sales to the public on Thursdays. “It’s important that we are here for our local people,” Risk said. They also take special orders for weddings and other events. You can even get a peanut butter fudge lollipop dipped in chocolate at the store.

So far, bags of ChocoSupreme Fudge O’Bits are available at Babbs Super Valu grocery and McKay’s Pharmacy in Spencer for $4.99. They also can be purchased at the Canyon Inn at McCormick’s Creek State Park. Different varieties of Fudge O-Bits are available online as well, but they cost more and require a $15 ice pack for shipping.

They will be on the shelves at Baesler Markets in Linton, Sullivan and Terre Haute in August. P’Nutti chocolate-covered bites will go into stores soon - Risk has ordered 20,000 bags for that variety.

There are no preservatives in the fudge, which has just a six-month shelf life. Risk said several big distributors have expressed interest in marketing her fudge, but it would require lower-quality ingredients and the addition of preservatives.

She said no, opting instead for a higher-end market: customers seeking a sweet treat that’s homemade and free of chemical additives.

Risk isn’t much for sweets herself, but daughter Kelsie makes herself a Fudge O’Bits milkshake about every day - two scoops of ice cream, a quarter cup of milk and a few morsels of the chocolate-covered fudge whirred in the blender. “I’ll never get tired of them,” she said.

Kristi Risk said the woman behind it all is in awe of what’s become of her simple recipes. “My mom, she never imagined her fudge would be packaged in bags, and on shelves, and for sale in stores.”

Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1HVPaR7


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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