OAKLAND — When most creative people are struck by inspiration, they commit their ideas to a canvas or a computer, but Lydia Stevens thinks, “Oh, I could put that in fudge.”

The 33-year-old co-owner of Candy Hollow operates a “hole-in-the-wall” candy store in Oakland with her husband, Jason, 42, and the couple have recently marked their fifth year in business.

They moved in June to 856 Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland, and while sad to leave their downtown location on Main Street, Lydia Stevens said there is no beating the visibility the store gets along KMD.

“We have excelled up here,” she said.

Even when looking to relocate, leaving Oakland was never in the cards. Jason Stevens is a graduate of Messalonskee schools, having been born and raised in town. His father was one of 11 children and his grandfather drove the district school bus. Theirs is an Oakland family through and through, and since they see their store as an “extension of family,” leaving town was out of the question.

John Estabrook of Oakland weighs malted milk balls last Wednesday he is buying at Candy Hollow in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The couple have complementary skill sets: He a business school graduate, she with a background in food service and sales. While Jason Stevens runs much of the logistics, he has what his wife describes as a “real job” aside from the business. So it is Lydia Stevens who runs the daily operations: taking inventory, restocking shelves, handling social media and custom orders. And making sheets and sheets of fudge.

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Much of Candy Hollow’s inventory is Halloween-themed, and that extends to her homemade fudge. Last week’s flavors — a snapshot of the 37 on display — included Witch’s Brew, which includes a gummy chicken foot in each bite, Hocus Pocus and a new flavor based on a classic pumpkin spice latte. For that, Stevens said, she layers three flavors of fudge: coffee, pumpkin and then a spiced vanilla mousse. Taken together, it tastes like a first sip from Dunkin’.

How does she conceptualize these fudge flavors?

“What would make somebody happy?” Stevens said she asks herself. “We love our product, but it’s happiness that I want people to have. I love when adult men come in here, tough, like, ‘Ugh, there’s so much pink,’ and then they see jumbo gummy snakes or something from their childhood and they immediately lose 20 years.”

Candy Hollow’s five years in business have been marked by staying open before and during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Back in 2020, the store was deemed “essential” because it served food, and Jason and Lydia Stevens kept Candy Hollow open throughout that year, delivering custom candy orders curbside. They were only closed for two days each week, which Stevens used to home-school her two young children and make fudge.

The “kid in a candy store” trope did not quite hold true for her own children during that time. Stevens said she often put her kids to work at the store, having them help with inventory, cutting fudge or running the cash register.

“I think everyone in the world should have a cashier job,” Lydia Stevens said. “Learn how to count change and make eye contact.”

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The couple have hired only one employee outside the family, a student who works part time. But even if the family were to bring on 50 employees, Stevens said, “I’d still need to be here.”

“It’s not that other people aren’t capable,” Stevens said. “I just put a lot of my soul into this place.”

For her, the beauty is in the details, and everything at the store needs her personal touch. Ribbons tied a certain way, all labels handwritten, each glass jar of candy displayed with attention to color, size and texture.

Each treat is handmade by Stevens, who refuses to take shortcuts or delegate. She points out her array of fudge-covered apples, topped with caramel and marshmallows.

“I do not roll those in marshmallows,” she said. “I’m strategically placing them on” each apple.

Even the furniture has a certain sentimentality, with most of what is inside the store having come from yard sales, auctions or “somebody’s barn.”

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In reflecting on what has changed over the years, Stevens said she has learned of the need to say no.

“There were days I’d stay in the store all day,” she said. “Next thing I know, it’s 5:30 in the morning.”

Now, in lieu of custom orders, Lydia Stevens curates grab-and-go bags. She also no longer throws in-store events, such as birthday parties. Another big change is offering more “healthy” food options, including fresh smoothies.

“I love candy, I do, but that wasn’t why we opened,” she said. “Life is so stressful. I just wanted a place that was bright, cheery … when people come in, they just. …” Stevens then outstretches her arms and exhales deeply.


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