Patsy’s expanding on sweet success

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Mike Farrell, Mike Niswonger, Annette Niswonger, Wes Niswonger and Si Niswonger.

Ready for expansion: Front left-right: Georgia Niswonger, 11, Amelia Niswonger, 8. Behind counter, left-right: Mike Farrell, Mike Niswonger, Annette Niswonger, Wes Niswonger and Si Niswonger.

For more than 100 years, Patsy’s Candies has been serving up its chocolate truffles, peanut butter nuggets and other confections to locals from two small stores in Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.

Now, Patsy’s Candies is making a reach for a national market and its owners are shopping their candies to hotels, grocery chains, trade shows and even potential investors.

“We can’t make it on just staying small anymore,” said Wes Niswonger, who owns and runs the business with his wife Annette, their two sons, Si and Mike, and their son-in-law, Mike Farrell. “We’ve got to expand sales if we want to stay alive in this economy.”

Sales in the two retail stores have been steady, but in the past two years, wholesale orders of Patsy’s Candies have dipped. Stores are not buying as much as they used to, said Mike Niswonger.

This year, the family is trying to make up the losses and maintain annual revenues at $2 million by cold-calling airport gift stores, college bookstores, train stations and specialty shops. So far, interest from the grocery store and hotel chains has just been verbal. But, the Niswongers feel enthusiastic about the responses.

“You hunker down and do what you have to do,” said son Mike Niswonger.

The candy makers have built a loyal mail-order following, but now have hired a marketing firm to make a big push, especially into natural grocery chains, touting their butterscotch popcorn, peanut brittle and almond toffee as all-natural products. Si Niswonger said the company is making packaging changes including re-sealable bags and party bowls that he hopes will be more attractive to wholesale and specialty stores.

Leading a visitor on a tour through the 10,000-square-foot candy factory on South 21st Street, candy maker Bob Morsch shows off the company’s five large copper kettles where about 700 pounds of candied popcorn, salt water taffy and English toffee are made each day.

Its candy-wrapping machines can wrap 500 pieces of taffy a minute, and chocolate molds can produce 84 pieces of chocolate preludes a minute.

The factory, Annette Niswonger said, is capable of so much more.

“We could produce three times what we are producing now,” she said.

Irishman Patsy Mehaney opened Patsy’s Candies in 1903 in Manitou Springs making only butterscotch popcorn. Mehaney sold his shop to the Osborn family and they added salt-water taffy to the offerings.

When Wes Niswonger’s father Howard Niswonger bought the business in 1956, it was just the two of them making the candied popcorn and salt water taffy. They opened a second location on Rio Grande Street in Colorado Springs and Wes Niswonger learned how to make chocolate candies from a woman who was selling candy out of her basement. In 1976, the Niswongers moved the candy-making factory to South 21st. They still sell candies at the Manitou Springs location, which is now a historic site.

The Niswongers have prided themselves in being a family-owned business, but they all agree that partnering with another business or investor isn’t out of the question.

“Now is the time when we need to grow,” Wes Niswonger said. “To get there it is probably going to be harder than it would have been five years ago.”