Photography by Daniel Vaughan
Twenty Years of Providing Fine Quality Treats to Brighton and Beyond
Walking into Mrs. B’s Country Candy store in Brighton is a delight to the senses; there’s the smell of sweet chocolate, the colourful seasonal decorations, the shiny display cases and shelves full of treats, and, of course, the bright and welcoming smile of owner Lorie Boychuk. At 64, Lorie has short, silver hair and an enthusiasm for making and sharing quality sweets.
Her nickname, Mrs. B, was furnished by the children in the military housing neighbourhood in Gander, Newfoundland where Lorie and her husband, an officer, resided. Lorie was an avid baker and frequently had cookies available to share with the neighbourhood children. “We had a puppy. Fresh cookies and puppies – the kids were always in our house or yard. They named me Mrs. B and it just stuck.”
Lorie and her late husband, Wes, both worked as radar technicians in the Canadian Forces. Lorie was one of the team responsible for making repairs to radar equipment on CFB Trenton. She reminisces about a time when something had been dropped into the bubble that houses the radar equipment and needed to be retrieved. “We were all hunched over trying to get in and the guys just couldn’t because they were too big and could hardly get one shoulder in, whereas I could get my head and one shoulder in. They figured if they grabbed me by the ankles I could get even further. It was a joke for a long time. I was smaller then,” she chuckles.
Relocating from Gander to Alabama for Wes’ NATO posting, Lorie and Wes eventually made their way back to the Quinte area in 1997. Lorie befriended a woman who held regular craft shows in her home. Leading up to one Christmas show, this woman had lost her supplier of baked goods at the last minute. Lorie offered to help her out. “I went home, and I made two kinds of brittle, I think I made up caramels quickly, sugar plums, and a mulling spice. She sold out every day. Then she was getting phone calls after Christmas, ‘Where can we get more?’ The writing was kind of on the wall.”
At that time, Lorie was in her 40s. She had back-to-back knee surgeries and hadn’t worked in some time but wanted to get back into the workforce. “For the first time in my life, it was to the point where I couldn’t even get an interview,” she recalls. “I just said, ‘There are other people in this position too. I’m going to start my own business and I’m going to hire older people, and I have.’” Lorie has two full-time employees (mature women like her) who help with manufacturing and running the retail store, as well as bookkeeping, scheduling, packaging, and shipping. Lorie hires summer students who also work part-time during the school year.
Mrs. B’s Country Candy began as a home-based enterprise. Lorie made brittles to start, then added caramels. She sold her goodies at craft shows and fairs initially, trying to get a feel for the market. “I started selling it from my home, because people kept phoning, asking for more between show seasons,” says Lorie.
“I thought I would just do shows and that would be it, but the demand made me go into a store. I’ve always been customer driven, so if they want something, I’ll find a way to get it to them. This business is very, very customer driven.”
When a little shop came up for rent, Lorie thought she’d try it for a couple of years. Mrs. B’s moved into its current Prince Edward Street location about 11 years ago.
When Lorie decided to start making chocolate, she was able to purchase equipment from a supplier in Prince Edward County, who also provided a few recipes. She then went for two weeks of training at The Chocolate Academy in Montreal. “By that time, I had been doing chocolate for about 18 months – the basics – they put me right into the advanced part,” says Lorie. “They train an awful lot of chocolatiers in this country. There’s only one level over where I am. It’s all the sculptures and things like that, which I don’t have time to do.”
Lorie’s goal is to make chocolate the old-fashioned way, by hand, on-site, in small batches for quality and freshness and using no salt or preservatives. “We’re still very artisan and we like that because everything’s done by feel and touch,” says Lorie. “We use excellent chocolate. We don’t use melters. Some places that manufacture chocolate just use a melter; they don’t go to the trouble of actually tempering chocolate. These (pointing to a selection her truffles) look shiny, but there’s no wax on them. It’s just proper tempering techniques.”
Lorie’s eyes light up when she describes the chocolate making process and the attributes of the different chocolate truffles on offer at Mrs. B’s. “Our centres are unique. For the crème brûlée truffle, I take the caramel dark, so it almost has that torched flavour from the top of the crème brûlée. This one (pointing to another truffle) is much lighter; it’s a caramel cream. This one is a salted caramel, and this little guy mostly has a milk chocolate ganache, but it has some caramel in it, too. We make all those caramels right from sugar, so I can make them all different and unique.”
Mrs. B’s most popular items are the surprise inside products, chocolate truffles and, particularly, the “silly little” chocolate mice – the ones containing the milk chocolate ganache with caramel. Asked which product is her personal favourite, Lorie responds in shock, “Really? You’re asking me that question? Which one’s your favourite child? You know what I mean? When you develop the recipes and invent new things, it’s difficult (to choose a favourite).”
The most challenging recipe to develop was a licorice truffle dipped in white chocolate and enrobed in dark chocolate. The difficulty was largely because Lorie is not a fan of licorice “Much to my father’s dismay,” she says, so taste testing was quite unpleasant for her. This particular truffle is no longer offered, but fans can still find chocolate-dipped licorice offered in the store.
Mrs. B’s sources as much supply as possible from the region. “Like the humbugs and the rocket and candy canes at Christmas, we get from a fellow in Verona – Bell Candy. The Turkish delight and the chocolate-dipped sponge toffee and our fudge is from Ontario – from St. Jacob’s. If I can find things locally, I use them,” says Lorie.
Over the years, Lorie has seen an evolution in her customers’ tastes. “I’m finding people are starting to understand chocolate more. They understand the difference between a mass-produced commercial bar and quality chocolate. It’s just a matter of exposing them to it. That’s what I’m noticing. The Internet has really helped. People are starting to educate themselves.”
Last Valentine’s Day, Sandbanks Winery in Prince Edward County began pairing Mrs. B’s chocolate truffles with their wines. “They did a romantic wine and chocolate pairing,” says Lorie. “Then they did a few more during the summer. We have a box of five chocolates there that go well with five of their wines.”
Adds Lorie, “You know what’s amazing to me? Chocolate and beer; that is the newest thing that’s being explored. I find more of the rustic flavours go with beer, like peanut butter or other nuttier flavours. The lemon and the orange flavours pair well because there’s that fruitiness to a beer. I should talk with John (Graham) up at Church-Key Brewery.”
In addition to the Brighton retail store and manufacturing site, Mrs. B’s products can be found at various retail stores throughout Ontario. Stores in Kingston, Port Perry, Trenton, Belleville, Napanee, Verona, Port Hope, Westport, Unionville, and Markham carry them. More recently, Lorie added an online ordering option on her website so people can purchase her products without going into a store.
Lorie is proud of what she and her team have accomplished at Mrs. B’s and she’s quick to acknowledge the people who helped it happen. Economic development representatives in both Belleville and Cobourg have helped Lorie to access low-interest loans and other financial supports. Lorie has been impressed with the networking opportunities offered as well. “If I have a need for something, I call them up and they’ll help us find it. They connect businesses together.”
“Lorie has built an incredible business with Mrs. B’s Country Candy and Bellissima Chocolates,” says Chris King, CEO of the Quinte Economic Development. “Her commitment to quality is evident in the products she creates. It’s a pleasure promoting her brand as part of the Proudly Made in Bay of Quinte program.”
As Lorie starts to plan for retirement and passing the torch of the business to someone else, the economic development team in Cobourg has set her up with an advisory board of business experts who will provide guidance.
Mrs. B’s Country Candy will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in March 2019, around the same time that their popular homemade gelato starts being featured in the store (along with Kawartha Dairy ice cream) for the season. Asked about anniversary plans, Lorie mulls it over. “Maybe a birthday cake-flavoured gelato. Everybody loves birthday cake!”