Three Cheers for Tennessee Chocolates!
Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift or indulging simply for the sake of your own cocoa craving, you won’t need to go far to find gourmet chocolates.
Tennessee chocolatiers are turning out sweets with a national following – from the wildly popular Colts Bolts made by a former “Hee Haw” Honey to the truffle pops served at the 2006 Super Bowl.
The Dinstuhl’s Difference
When Charles Martin Dinstuhl Sr. began crafting chocolates by hand in Memphis in 1902, he used giant copper kettles, thick marble slabs and the purest ingredients money could buy.
More than 100 years later, operations at Dinstuhl’s Fine Candy Co.’s 11,000-square-foot “candy kitchen” bear a striking resemblance to the founder’s original system. Dinstuhl’s great-great-grandson and a team of about 35 workers still use some of those same kettles and marble slabs, and they still insist on ingredients without a trace of preservatives.
“Our chocolate fudge recipe is the oldest recipe we use, and we still make it the same way we did in the beginning, with pure cream and the richest chocolate we can find,” says Rebecca Dinstuhl, company president.
“Each piece of chocolate is handmade, so every piece is its own little work of art. We put a lot of love into our chocolates.”
One look around Dinstuhl’s candy kitchen proves it’s true. Workers in neat aprons carefully assemble every chocolate, truffle and cream before they are neatly boxed and wrapped, also by hand.
“We’re one of the few companies in the United States that still makes candy by hand – you’re hard-pressed to find a chocolate business like ours,” Dinstuhl says. “We’re also very competitively priced.”
Although ownership changed three years ago when third-generation chocolatier Gary Dinstuhl sold the family business to Larry and Judy Moss, the name, products and methods remain the same. Even the staff has remained more or less constant.
“Tommy Washington has been here more than 43 years, and our Easter basket maker has been here since she was 15 years old,” Dinstuhl says. “So when we say it’s a family business, it’s not just the Dinstuhl family – it’s everybody who works for us.”
Her son, Andrew, is in charge of corporate sales, though he can also be found lending a hand in the candy kitchen.
“We do it the exact same way my great-great-grandfather did in 1902,” says Andrew Dinstuhl.
“We could be more mechanized, but we don’t want to sacrifice the quality for the quantity.
“You can find people all over the world who are from Memphis, and they’ve all had Dinstuhl’s candy, so they like to give a little piece of home. It really is a Memphis tradition.”
Dinstuhl’s makes custom chocolates for clothing stores, casinos, hotels (including the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis) and even FedEx. The company was also contracted to make truffle pops, or truffles on a stick, for the 2006 Super Bowl.
In addition to chocolates, Dinstuhl’s makes a variety of brittles and chocolate-covered fruits. The company has four retail stores in the Memphis area and sells products online at www.dinstuhls.com.
The Name Says It All
The South’s Finest Chocolate Factory in Knoxville has been turning out tasty, preservative-free chocolates for nearly 25 years.
“One of our signature products is our Cashew Whisper, made with homemade caramel, using half-and-half and whipping cream.
The caramel is funneled onto salted cashews, and they are topped with white chocolate,” says William Douglas, owner and founder of The South’s Finest Chocolate Factory. “Another signature product is our New Orleans Fudge, which is creamy and smooth and made with milk or dark chocolate.”
Every February, the company offers its highly anticipated Strawberries in the Snow, available only on the 13th and 14th of the month – just two days out of the year.
“They are fresh strawberries dipped in white chocolate and placed in red cups – we’ve been known for them since 1983,” Douglas says. “We always have two midnight shifts going to keep up with the demand.”
The South’s Finest Chocolate Factory has two locations in Knoxville, one of which is in the “Candy Factory,” built in 1919 by the Littlefield and Steer Co. Littlefield and Steer produced fine chocolates and candies in Knoxville from 1889 until 1932. The South’s Finest Chocolate Factory acquired the historic building in 1993.
The company sells its products at two retail locations in Knoxville and online at www.chocolatelovers.com.
“Our name says it all,” Douglas says. “I could buy cheap products to put in our candy, but I don’t. We use the finest American chocolate, which makes us the South’s finest – there’s nothing better.”
‘Hee Haw’ Chocolate Queen
After a six-year stint on the hit television show “Hee Haw” in the 1970s, Mackenzie Colt was faced with the decision of what to do next in her life.“She always says the only things she knew how to do were sing and cook,” says Rob Colt, Mackenzie’s son.
In 1984, the former “Hee Haw” Honey turned her love for candy making into Colts Chocolates, a Nashville business that sells its confections to retail locations nationwide, including Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Honey Baked Ham, hotels, gift shops and specialty stores.
Colt created her first concoction, Colts Bolts, in her own kitchen from chocolate, peanut butter and whole roasted almonds, and it became one of the company’s best sellers. Other favorites include Marie McGhee’s Bumble Bees, named in honor of Colt’s mother and made from chocolate, caramel and slow-roasted pecans, and Roy Rogers Happy Trails Chocolate. She named the Roy Rogers candy after he and Dale Evans made a guest appearance on “Hee Haw” – at the same time she was experimenting with a rich blend of trail mix and peanut butter, smothered in rich chocolate.
“Most of our candy is handmade, so every piece is a little bit different, which makes it special,” says Rob Colt, chief operating officer for Colts Chocolates. “Part of our charm is that we don’t present ourselves as an upscale chocolate company. Most of our customers aren’t like that either, but they do want something more than a Hershey bar.”
About 22 employees make Colts Chocolates candies in a 10,000-square-foot facility near Nashville’s Music Row.
In 2006, the company introduced two new products: Dark Chocolate Colts Bolts and Demi-Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallows.
“Dark chocolate is the rage right now, and more people are starting to enjoy it, the more they’re exposed to it,” Colt says.
Colts Chocolates are sold at retail locations nationwide and online at www.coltschocolates.com.