Sullivan O’Keeffe browses the assortment of candy Thursday at Incense & Peppermints on Main Street in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

There’s more than one way to survive a pandemic when you own a small business.

First, you add candy to the menu.

Then, when customers keep asking if you have fudge, you add that too.

Malcolm Porter and David Spinney-Porter know intimately that rule of thumb: Shower customers with what they want.

The men own Incense & Peppermints in downtown Waterville. The shop started as Enchanted Herbs & Teas and when the pandemic hit in 2020 they knew they had to supplement the business with something more, so they added the candy store.

On Thursday, National Fudge Day, dressed in crisp white shirts, black pants, red suspenders and bow ties, they hosted an open house for their latest product, fudge, which they make right on the premises with fresh cream and butter. Chocolate, peanut butter, praline caramel, cookies and cream, maple, chocolate mint swirl and Heath bar are some of the flavors.

Advertisement

Behind glass on a white countertop flanked with big squares of wax paper lay several slabs of colorful fudge which Spinney-Porter, 43, cut into slices and placed into little white boxes for customers.

Overhead, a sparkling chandelier crafted from Hula hoops, transparent plastic spheres of various sizes, and red and silver striped Christmas bulbs hung from the ceiling. Every imaginable color, shape and type of candy was packed on shelves, tables and a giant, pink hutch in the shop, which touted an entire wall of nearly 100 flavors of Jelly Belly beans.

David Spinney-Porter, co-owner of Incense & Peppermints, helps customers Alanna O’Keeffe and her brother, Sullivan O’Keeffe, as they shop for fudge Thursday, which is National Fudge Day. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Talk about experiencing echoes of childhood; being in the shop was like taking a whimsical trek down memory lane.

“A very wise lady once told me, ‘Anybody can sell product — when people come into your store, they’re coming in for the experience,'” said Porter, 56. “So we’re trying to create that experience for our customers. People have said we look like something out of Willy Wonka.”

Angel O’Keeffe, her son, Sullivan, 24, and daughter, Alanna, 18, oohed over the fudge offerings, taste-tested several and finally selected about two pounds of peanut butter, marble chocolate-peanut butter, mint chocolate, cookies and cream, and maple fudge to take home.

“I tried the peanut butter — and I’m not a fan of peanut butter — but I like it, especially the texture,” Alanna said. “It’s really nice.”

Advertisement

Her mother and brother concurred.

“You can tell they really put the time and care into making it because it’s so smooth,” said Angel, 50. “Everybody needs to get over here and get some fudge.”

The O’Keeffes are cheerleaders for patronizing downtown businesses, having owned their own for many years at the corner of Main and Temple streets — Happy Trails and Joe’s Smoke Shop. Sullivan and his sister chose fudge flavors for their father, Jim, who arrived just as they were set to leave.

Alanna O’Keeffe and her brother, Sullivan O’Keeffe, shop for fudge at Incense & Peppermints in downtown Waterville on Thursday, which is National Fudge Day. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

One of the things Porter loves about being in a candy store during a pandemic is that people are happy when they arrive.

“Who can be mad in the candy store?” he says.

As a child growing up in West Farmington, Porter patronized Hoffman’s General Store where he remembers buying fistfuls of penny candy.

Advertisement

“You came in with 10 or 15 cents, you come out with 15 pieces of candy and you felt you were rich,” he said.

He never imagined at the time that he would own a candy store himself, nor would his area of study in college portend it. Having graduated from University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in biology, Porter spent much of his career working as a paramedic and in health care administration.

When he realized the health care system was broken, he said, he began studying clinical herbalism and became a medicinal herbalist; hence, he opened the herbal incense, tea and gift shop before adding candy. Spinney-Porter grew up in southern Massachusetts and moved to Caribou as a teen. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Their blended skills, and a passion to see people happy and healthy, make for a sweet confection.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.