Interview with Swiss Maid Fudge owner - Jane Heller

As I mentioned before, getting to make fudge at the Swiss Maid Fudge kitchen was a childhood dream of mine. Getting to cross this off my bucket list was made possible by the generosity of Jane Heller - who graciously took the time to answer some of my questions. 

Jane Heller & Daughter Carley

Tell me a little about your history. Was it a childhood dream to someday own a candy shop, or did this come later in life?

I was born and raised in Wisconsin Dells.  I began working at the candy stores at the age of 14 and throughout high school and college. Upon graduating, I worked for 2 years in the finance industry. My husband graduated with a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management – an opportunity became available for us to buy an existing business in Wisconsin Dells which we did (Monks Bar & Grill.)  Upon returning to the Dells, my Father asked if I would be interested in returning to the candy stores to operate them and I took him up on the offer – I took them over in 1980 and learned the business end of the operation then.  Prior to that I had learned all of the candy making techniques and recipes.

What’s your favorite aspect about owning a candy shop?

I love working with candy – there are so many things you can do with it that the possibilities are definitely endless.  Chocolate covered Bacon – who would have thought!!  My least favorite thing is the training involved to get everyone up to speed for the summer.  Just when you feel they are in the swing of things Labor Day comes, business slows down, and they are back in school, etc.  We are always hopeful that they will return the following year but it isn’t always the case.

I heard your fudge doesn’t melt – can you explain why?

Fudge is cooked so it is not simply a chocolate product, like a candy bar, that will melt.  The cooking process and the other ingredients that are added to the chocolate like sugar, cream, butter prevent it from melting.

How do you come up with your ideas for the different kinds of treats? Are you like a mad scientist spending time in the kitchen to the wee hours of the morning experimenting, or do you get your inspirations elsewhere?

I am constantly being inspired by any sweet item I see to come up with new recipes.  I have a folder full of new recipe ideas.  For example, the other day I had a delicious Lemon Meringue Pie and thought, “why couldn’t we do this with fudge?”  We made a pecan crust and then put the lemon fudge on top of it and topped it off with meringue.  It really is delicious!

The chocolate covered bacon is something people usually have a big reaction to when I’ve mentioned it. People either love it, or are grossed out by it! What has been the overall response, and have you tried to make anything else that is a bit “outside the box”?

Chocolate Covered Bacon has been a tremendous hit.  We go through about 6 cases of bacon/week.  We have tried making pralines (not really out of the box) since some customers were asking for it, but that is really more of a Southern candy that we found difficult to sell in Wisconsin.  We did make what we called “popping chocolate” for New Years Eve made with Pop Rocks.  It was actually a very fun candy but since it was in our off season it didn’t really sell as well as we would have liked.

What’s the most candy you’ve eaten in one sitting? How do you stay so thin working around so much goodness? Have you ever eaten so much that you’ve gotten sick?

I’ve never gotten sick…I usually don’t eat a lot of candy at one sitting but rather nibble throughout the day.  I remain thin because I look at candy and breathe it (live it!) all day long so am not as tempted to over indulge in sweets – it’s always available to me! 

What’s the most memorable thing that has happened in one of your stores?

Kids…and adults… in a candy store – what can I say.  Of course they are tempted by everything they see.  When we are mixing the fudge on the table those watching usually offer to “lick the spoon.”  Sometimes we have adults and children alike that just clean us out of all of our samples – we always kid that they are eating the fudge buffet today!!   

Tell me a little about the Rachel Ray TV show mention. Did you get a big swing in online sales after-the-fact?

Rachel Ray producers contacted us about being featured as the “Snack of the Day” in one of their episodes so obviously we jumped at the chance!  They had come across our Almond Pecan Butter corn and thought it would be a great treat for their audience.  So, we made little bags for them to hand out and in turn received mentioned on their television show along with our contact information and website address.  It’s definitely a great business booster when you get national publicity like this.

What’s in store for the future of Swiss Maid Fudge? Will you ever expand to other locations, or is it going to be a Dells mainstay?

Right now I would have to say it will be a Wisconsin Dells mainstay, however, never say never!  If the right opportunity would come along I would definitely consider it.

Any new products you wish to tease?

We are continually testing different flavors of fudge and combinations so as the seasons change be sure to check out our seasonal flavors.

As a kid, I remember that the “maids” actually wore maid outfits, but didn’t see anyone wearing them when I was at the store last weekend. Was there a specific reason they retired? Some people I’ve talked to actually thought they were kind of sexy – I have to ask, have you ever put one on to spice things up in your personal life?

The “maid” uniforms were sewn specifically for us at that time and that individual is no longer alive.  We found it to be less costly and easier to fit everyone with the chef’s coats.  No comment on the second half of the question!