Interviews and photos by Amy Howe
How did you meet?
Charles: My other vocation is as a Presbyterian minister. My first call was in Otterville, Missouri. My first Thanksgiving, I was informed by a Baptist deacon that it was the Presbyterians’ turn to preach and the Methodists’ turn to host the annual community Thanksgiving service. I was at that moment the only resident pastor among the three congregations, so I was to make arrangements for the school children to sing for the service. Because the Methodist church had no piano, I was also to inform the music teacher to bring a piano. This had apparently been done every third year for a long time. Malinda was the music teacher, and if she had been more cooperative on the bringing of the piano, we might never have gotten together. She was less than cooperative, suggesting pianos weren’t portable instruments, wouldn’t fit in her car and couldn’t be moved for the school until checked with some other people. So, we had to visit more than once over this issue and kept running into each other in areas where school and church still overlapped in a small town. Eventually, she seemed a bit more cooperative, and we began to spend more and more time together.
Malinda: It was NOT love at first sight. He says he initially hoped I had friends he could meet. Eventually, he kind of grew on me. I guess it must have been mutual.
What role do each of you play in your business?
Charles: I’m the candy maker, confectioner and lead dishwasher.
Malinda: I wait on customers, fill displays and manage our Facebook page. I also wrap the caramels.
Tell us a little bit about the background of your business and what it has been like to see it grow together.
Charles: I have been making candy and cookies as a hobby since at least high school. Growing up, we were never restricted from eating such things, but we weren’t promised that anyone else would make them for us. I was searching the internet for some used equipment to use in my hobby and instead found the whole historic Minerva Candy Co. for sale. My call in the Kansas City area was winding down, so I asked Malinda if she thought I could run a candy store. She gave it a definite maybe, and we began researching the candy business and negotiating the purchase. It is somewhat humbling to undertake the reopening of a candy company with over 100 years of history. Some of the equipment is nearly as old. Duke Mallos, whose family had the business for three generations, has been very helpful in keeping the old equipment working and offering guidance on the candy making at a scale well beyond a hobby. We gave the business a new name, Spencers’ Sweet Call Inc. at the Minerva Candy Co. The name reflects several elements: it is my current primary call or vocation, we think our confections will call to you, and we hope you will call us when you want something sweet to eat. The continued reference to the Minerva Candy Co. is a reminder that we are in the same place, using historic equipment and many traditional recipes. The new name reveals that we are not doing it exactly as it has been done in the past. It will be a new experience in a familiar place. An example of a new element would be the offering of over 90 choices of craft soda from a variety of independent bottlers from Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and beyond. We are building new traditions on the old foundations.
What advice would you give to a couple who’s thinking of going into business together?
Charles: In my other vocation, I was once asked if I was under the impression that the work was supposed to be enjoyable or fun. I answered that it had been fun until that question. It is pretty common advice to do what you enjoy. I would say in terms of a family business, it better be something you enjoy if it is going to be so central to family life, and it needs eventually to be profitable or it’s not a business. You have to be realistic on both fronts or either the business or the family will suffer.
Malinda: A family business has its own dynamic, and you have to be committed to finding what works—for the family, and for the business.