Amy Peterson is a former legal secretary whose holiday sweet treats for co-workers turned into a sweet little second career.
"One year, I decided to do Christmas presents and made caramels and chocolate marshmallows and toffee," said Peterson, whose candy-making eventually turned into . "Everyone told me, 'You've got to be selling this!' "
So the next year, she thought she'd be smart and make up pre-holiday order forms. She did $2,000 worth of business, which got her thinking about another career.
After several years of filling holiday orders, Peterson decided to branch out and begin selling at craft shows, which meant that she had to find a commercial kitchen. Her first location four years ago was a bakery in Westchester, which let her use its facilities when it was closed. That was followed by a stint at Kitchen Chicago, which she described as a shared commercial kitchen for anyone who wants to start a business on a shoestring budget. But the 45-minute commute was too much, so she began looking locally again.
That's when she discovered The Cakebox in New Lenox.
"(Owners) Tia (Willis) and Holly (Ashley) were so helpful and encouraging," said Peterson, who used their kitchen and sold out of their bakery while planning to open her own shop.
In June 2010, Peterson finally left her downtown law firm, which had been incredibly supportive of her pursuing her dream, she said. She spent the next nine months looking for space and preparing to open her own store, which she did in April in a little strip mall on St. Francis Road.
This summer, she's been at the Bolingbrook and Frankfort farmers markets while also having regular--though somewhat reduced--hours in the store.
"But I'm so looking forward to fall when the candy season really starts," Peterson said. "September will be the month that it starts getting crazy, but it's a good crazy."
She'll kick off the month with a booth at Frankfort Fall Festival (#825), selling caramel apples, bear paws (like huge turtles), toffee and frozen key lime pie. Peterson also hopes for cooler weather so she can offer her hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. During the parade, her helpers will be tossing individually wrapped homemade caramels to the crowd.
The weeks following Fall Fest will be spent preparing for a huge show put on by the Allendale Foundation in Lake Forest.
"I pretty much have to lay everything out based on past sales and figure out how much to make of what. It will be a couple weeks of seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day of getting it made, packaged and stored. The day of the show we just load and go," Peterson said.
The One of a Kind show at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago during the first weekend in December is her main event, though.
"It's our third year there, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger for us," Peterson said, adding that she gets a lot of referrals and reorders from that event.
She's also looking forward to the holidays because this is the first time she'll have retail space of her own to decorate.
Beyond that, January means a trip to a production equipment trade show in Chicago for smaller mom-and-pop businesses. With eyes on future growth, Peterson is looking to make some purchases that will allow her to move into the wholesale market, perhaps even working with area restaurants to provide desserts and custom truffle assortments or having local grocery stores carry her chocolate-dipped cheesecake and key lime pie slices.
But she's not stopping there. Having found her true passion, Peterson said she sees her business continuing to grow.
"One day, I'd like to have more of a sit down cafe that serves gelato and chocolates and cakes and has a coffee bar," she said, adding that it would be open morning through evening and possibly even offer entertainment.
Amy Peterson Chocolates offers truffles in rotating flavors, three varieties of caramels, homemade marshmallows, toffee and other delights and can provide favors for showers or special events, as well as handle corporate client gift orders.