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LOOKING BACK: Rocky Mountain candy-makers have changed over the years

Tony Lukas, former onwer of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, shown making candy apples in 2002. The store now has a new owner. PHOTO BY NINA ZHITO

DAVID TEMPLETON,

Generally speaking, people’s love of candy rarely, if ever, changes.

But the people who make that candy often do.

In 2002, writer Vovanna Bieberich interviewed Tony Lukas, then the owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets (see excerpt in sidebar). Twelve years later, in 2014, Lukas decided to make a career switch, and the Rocky Mountain franchise – after a few months standing empty of candy or customers - eventually was taken over by Seattle-based business school graduate Ben Circeo, who’d won the franchise in a competition at his business school, Northwest Nazarene, in Idaho. Circeo eventually followed Lukas in pursuing other occupations.

That left Petaluma’s Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, once again, without an owner. But just five months ago, Jacob Blaylock, 28, another young business student - at Missouri Western State University, in St. Joseph, Missouri - decided to enter a similar competition to the one that gave Circeo a crack at entrepreneurship.

And he won, dropping the energetic Blaylock into Petaluma – a town he’d never even heard of before entering the contest – right in the middle of holiday candy season.

“I was pursuing a business management degree,” explains Blaylock, speaking from the business-owner side of the candy counter at the store. “In my university, they have this program where you take entrepreneurship class. And the students create a business plan, and then compete for the opportunity to own a store. I ended up winning, got the financing for the store, and here I am.”

According to Blaylock, around 27 of his alma mater’s graduates now own stores all over the United States through the win-your-own-business competition.

“I’d never thought of living in California,” he laughs. “It was the furthest thing from my mind. I originally thought I’d end up in Boulder, Colorado, but that store ended up being purchased by a different buyer, and the school announced that its replacement would be the store in Petaluma.”

He admits that, having once visited Los Angeles, he expected all of California to be similar to L.A..

“This is not that, though,” he laughs. “It’s so different. I like it, but it’s still a shock, I guess. I didn’t even know Oakland and San Francisco were so close together. I knew nothing about California. I’m learning fast.”

Blaylock, a native of Missouri, now lives in Rohnert Park, in an apartment his wife found through an online search. They moved in last July, and Blaylock took over running the candy store immediately.

“I’d never contemplated becoming a candy maker,” he allows. “But last year, a friend of mine, who’d won a Rocky Mountain store a couple of years ago, came up and said, ‘Hey dude, you should totally do this. It’s an awesome experience.’ Now that I’m here, actually making candy, I’m loving it.”

Once he’s settled in a bit more, and made it through the holidays, Blaylock hopes to upgrade some of the shop’s equipment and furnishings.

“For one thing,” he says, smiling, “I’d like to get a new coffee maker. We actually sell a lot of coffee, and that one is good, but kind of old.”

That said, he’s already made a few sweet additions to the local store’s daily candy offerings, adding some notable new items, including chocolate-covered Twinkies on a stick.

And yes, you read that right.

“Some other Rocky Mountain stores have chocolate-dipped Twinkies, but I don’t think they’ve ever been offered in Petaluma before,” he says of the decadent-sounding confection. “They’re actually totally awesome and delicious.”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)