Flowood — The owners of Gulfport-based Aunt V’s Candies had a goal of opening a second store in the Jackson area in 2006. Hurricane Katrina, however, forced that opening in 2005. The confectionary opened in Magnolia Marketplace in Flowood last month and the Gulfport location is closed.
“We realize that sometimes the man upstairs is in control and knows more than we do,” owner Cheryl Blackstock said. “We wanted to have a store here and when the Coast has stability, we will put a second store there.”
She said the business dream she and husband Jeff Blackstock have is to have franchises of their store. They feel the Flowood location will make that dream more possible.
A Gulf Coast standard, Aunt V’s Candies was begun in 1987 by Lanky and Verta Lee Orieles. Pralines have been the mainstay of the business for wholesale and retail. The road to owning a candy business for the Blackstocks began when they fell in love with the Coast while vacationing there.
“We loved it and did something a lot of people think is crazy,” Cheryl Blackstock said. “We moved from Utah to the Coast without jobs.”
Jeff Blackstock, who grew up in the Jackson area, had worked as a controller in the hotel business. On the Coast the couple got jobs in restaurants just to have jobs. They lived in Pass Christian where they met the second owners of Aunt V’s Candies and bought the business from them in 1999.
“The previous owners basically just had the wholesale part but we’ve built the retail end of it,” Cheryl said. “We knew there would be more money in that and it’s worked out well.”
With Jeff taking care of wholesale accounts and delivering candy from state line to state line and as far north as Hattiesburg, business took off. Cheryl said sales have more than doubled each year since they’ve owned the business. “A lot of that is due to customer service,” she said. “We both came from the service industry and know that’s the key to any business.”
The pralines — made with a secret recipe that came with the business — have also been shipped all over the United States and to numerous foreign countries, including Scotland, Ireland, England, Turkey, Germany and Iraq. Residents and employees of the White House have received the treats a couple of times, too, compliments of Congressman Gene Taylor and his wife Margaret. Currently, the Blackstocks are working with the Taylors’ daughter, Emily, to supply pralines for her hurricane fund raising efforts. Aunt V’s supplied pralines for the Harrison County Tourism Commission’s gift bags, too, until Katrina quelled tourism efforts.
Although Aunt V’s building on Pass Road in Gulfport had minor wind damage, $8,000 worth of inventory was lost while there was no electricity. Cheryl Blackstock says $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue has been lost with 80% of the wholesale accounts gone.
The most devastating thing for her was the complete loss of their home. “It’s just a slab,” she said. “We went back on Labor Day and saw it for the first time. I’m still numb. It’s a big nightmare. Even now I go to sleep and think I’ll wake up and find it’s not true.”
With most of their equipment undamaged, the Blackstocks felt they had to move their business to keep it alive. “The Coast is in a survival mode and we knew we would not make it there,” Cheryl said. “Jeff’s mom lives in Pearl and we had visited and shopped on Lakeland Drive. We knew it was the place to be.”
With help from family and church groups, the Blackstocks installed equipment and opened Aunt V’s in the new location October 12. The space is smaller than what they had in Gulfport but is adequate. The location is more than adequate with the huge volume of traffic passing by. The local chamber of commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony to welcome the new business to Rankin County.
“People have been so nice and kind. Many have stopped to welcome us here,” Cheryl said. “That has made the transition really smooth. It’s a good location and it feels like it was all meant to be.”
Aunt V’s makes divinity, rocky road, turtles, pecan logs and pecan clusters in addition to their signature pralines. They also take orders for gourmet cakes such as coconut key lime cake and turtle cake. For the first time, they are introducing pies to their product line beginning with basic pumpkin and pecan.
“The business was built on pralines and that will continue to be the main thing,” Cheryl said, “but we want to offer many other choices too.”
Right now while the family resettles and gets their business going, the Blackstocks are living with Jeff’s mother. They are looking for a lucrative holiday season and a bright future with an eye to franchise.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.