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Curtis Nokleby

Lee's Candies owner on chocolate, magic and the 'family farm'



Don't even think about confusing Lee's Candies with See's Candies. Only one of them—Lee's—was born and still thrives in Boise.

"Lee was my dad, Lee Nokleby, who founded the store in downtown Boise in 1947. Yes, we get confused with See's all the time, but I guess he thought it would have been odd for him to call the store Nokleby's," said Curtis, current owner of Lee's. "My playpen used to be in the back of the store. This is the only thing I ever wanted to do."

With Easter just a few days away on Sunday, April 16, Nokleby was a busy man, working 12-hour days making nearly three-dozen types of chocolates, concocting creams, stirring caramel and taking the occasional taste to make sure the recipe was exactly the same as his late father's. It was a rare opportunity for Nokleby to sit still long enough to talk to Boise Weekly.

Is your business an accurate barometer of the economy?

When the most recent recession hit, business fell off 50 percent. That Christmas bottomed out. The day after Christmas we had the biggest sale ever and it was gone in one day.

Has the post-recession business returned?

Regular customers? Yes. But corporate customers never came back. I keep hearing from a lot of companies that they just quit giving holiday gifts of candy to their own customers.

How's business right now?

Valentine's Day was OK. It looks like Easter will be OK. But Christmas is everything in this business. It's just like a farmer's main crop; so, I harvest our crop every Christmas. Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day and the rest? They supplement that.

The quality of your chocolate is some of the best I've ever tasted.

It's the highest grade of chocolate available from our supplier, Peter's Chocolate in Pennsylvania. We've used them for years.

Let's talk about the quality of chocolate. Some of the best selling candy bars don't even taste like chocolate anymore.

That's because it's not even real chocolate. They use what is called a confection coating or compound coating. It costs them half the price of real chocolate. Plus, they use high fructose corn syrup for sweetening, but it's cheap. I don't use any of those things.

Let's get into some of your recipes, particularly your chocolate-covered creams.

Those flavors also become our cream-filled Easter eggs—15 varieties. Chocolate cream; peppermint cream; vanilla walnut cream; orange cream, where I grate whole oranges inside; peanut butter cream; and then our Monte Carlo, with the vanilla center and a mix of soft caramel.

Walk me through your process of making a cream-filled egg.

First, I cook a large pot of the flavoring, all natural. While that's cooling, I make a second pot of something called Mazetta—a really fluffy, marshmallow-y type cream. That's why my creams are so smooth and creamy. Then we add the two. It must set for a while. The next day, I come back and roll it all into giant loves, then cut it into smaller egg-shapes. Then they're ready for chocolate dipping.

How many of these cream-filled eggs are you making in a day?

Sometimes 2,500.

Wait a minute...What? Can I assume your recipes are in a book somewhere?

Once a burglar broke in but couldn't get into the safe, so the recipes are safe.

How do you keep your colleagues from nibbling all day?

My dad used to say, "You can nibble all you want. But if you get fat, I'll fire you." Joking aside, if they want to nibble, let them nibble. But if you start shoving a lot of really rich chocolate in your mouth, you might get sick. Customers have told me that they took a box of chocolates and finished them off in 10 minutes. Whoa.

It's interesting to watch your eyes twinkle a bit when you talk about making candy.

If you don't put a bit of magic in the recipe, it isn't going to work. We use the best ingredients and take a lot of time and love to make our candy, but it's really about the magic.

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