It was love at first sight!
In a flurry of Christmas shopping I’d stumbled on a chocolate shop that would make even Willy Wonka’s eyes widen. Handmade truffles, Old English toffee, caramel turtles, sweet Santas, even solid chocolate shaped like Washington beckoned for a delectable bite.
Meandering in this chocolate lovers’ heaven — known as Baum’s House of Chocolate and Gourmet Popcorn — I could barely contain my excitement over the locally made items. Then when I learned about a special “ingredient,” I knew there was a story to tell.
“I never had a dream of making chocolate someday. I’ve always loved it, but I’m not really a very good cook,” co-owner Mindy Sandlin said, laughing at how she ended up with a huge industrial kitchen that produces countless treats.
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With a background in electronic sales from years past, the idea of owning a candy-making business had never entered her mind. But when this single mother of three met her future husband, Don, who owns Let’s Party in Kennewick, he had been giving a lot of thought to expanding the business. Soon he was thinking about love.
On the eve of 2015, the two married and then later bought Baum’s House of Chocolate in July. That’s when Mindy got a firsthand taste of being an entrepreneur.
“I jumped in feet first!” Mindy said, smiling at the hectic memory. “I learned everything I could about chocolate from the chocolatier and then I learned how to pop popcorn from the owner — and everything else that goes with the business. He was retiring in a week!”
At the time, the candy shop and kitchen were in West Richland before the move to 513 N. Edison St. in Kennewick. Mindy’s cadre of enthusiastic volunteers would arrive early each day to lend a hand to the fledgling businesswoman.
“I had a lot of help from friends,” Mindy said, thinking back to their overwhelming support and mutual faith. “We prayed every morning for the customers, for the chocolate, for the employees — and I still do that.”
Those prayers were answered as Mindy became proficient in the candy-making business and clientele warmed to the sweet brunette managing the shop — in addition to her blended family. Her mornings begin with a 4:30 “quiet time” to prepare for the day, and then it’s nonstop until the last child is tucked into bed.
“In every fiber of this business, God is here,” Mindy said with heartfelt faith. “I couldn’t do it without him.”
The handmade chocolates are indeed heavenly — just ask anyone who tastes a free sample — and the recipes date back to the original owner, Kathy Baumgartner. She began making toffee for friends and then in 1981 it grew into a business, one that thrived on the personal touch.
“It’s like old school,” Mindy said, explaining how they can customize candy boxes. “You get to pick out what you want.”
While customers peruse the bounty of choices displayed in glass cases and on counters, behind-the-scenes a river of melted Guittard chocolate streams into molds for the Christmas season. The store’s massive kitchen is just beyond the wall where chocolatier Andy busily replenishes the never-ending supply of chocolate delights.
For me, it was absolute bliss to be wrapped in the aroma of fresh chocolate when I first stepped in the door. And hardly a moment had passed when I was wrapped in the warmth of Mindy’s smile and that special “ingredient” she adds to the ambiance.
“I used to pray that God would put me in a place where I could just love on people,” Mindy reflected. “And now he has me here and I get to do that everyday.”
Love and chocolate. It just seems to go together.