For Tacoma couple Kelly and Grant Garofalo, time is precious. In the last few years, they’ve hardly taken a couple of days off and sometimes only sleep a few hours between working fulltime jobs and launching their candy company Old Town Delights.
On weekdays, Grant wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to get to his software engineering job in Redmond. Kelly wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to take the kids to school in Puyallup and then heads to Seattle, where she works as an accountant. Once they get home from a long day, their other work begins.
The Garofalos make caramels. But these aren’t just any caramels. They’re old-fashioned and handmade. Wrapped in parchment paper, they’re about the size of a matchbox. Big squares of chewy golden-brown candies that melt in your mouth. For some, biting into one brings back a taste of nostalgia.
One woman called the couple from a parking lot. She was in tears after she popped a caramel in her mouth and memories of her grandmother’s homemade caramels came flooding back.
The Garofalos got the idea to start making caramels after attending a truffle-cooking class in 2012. They thought, “We should do this at home.” They started experimenting and found Grant’s grandmother’s caramel recipe. It took about six months, but they perfected it into the sweetest thing in the South Sound.
A woman who had just lost her husband was given a package of their truffles and shared them at Sunset Hills Funeral Home in Bellevue. It didn’t take long until someone on staff was searching to get more. Soon, anyone who came to the funeral home was given a package of Old Town Delights truffles.
Another break came when someone handed a Haggen executive a caramel on an airplane. When he deboarded, he called the Garofalos. “I want you in all of our stores,” he said.
But Kelly and Grant haven’t just waited for luck to find them. When Kelly heard Kroger was opening Main & Vine in Gig Harbor, she did some marketing sleuthing. She started looking for specific names aligned with the Kroger brand in newspaper articles. And then, she searched for them on Facebook.
“I messaged them, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re a little local company, and I know you’re associated with this new grocery store going in,’” she said of her Facebook messages.
One woman agreed to meet her at the lobby of her hotel in Gig Harbor. Kelly walked away with their biggest order yet. And then, Kroger doubled it. Fulfilling the order proved to be a massive undertaking that kept the small team at Old Town Delights working around the clock.
“We would come to the space, and we would cook and cut and package until 4 in the morning and then go back to our jobs,” said Madi Lockhart, who works with the couple. They call her their “other daughter,” they are so close.
But it was worth it. For the Garofalos, making caramel is more than a hobby or a small business. It’s a way to make a lasting impression on the community — a flavor people won’t soon forget.
About five years ago, before Old Town Delights, Kelly was diagnosed with melanoma. She has since beat cancer, but the illness provoked a long list of spiraling questions.
“Oh, dear Lord, who’s going to remember me? You know? Your whole attitude changes,” said Kelly.
Searching for answers, she called her Aunt Marlene — the closest person to her since her mother died. It was then that she decided to do something bold.
“Kelly, nobody is going to remember you by your clean house,” her aunt said. “But they’ll remember you by your caramels and your chocolates.”
That’s why having a company that’s rooted in giving back to the community is crucial to Kelly and Grant. They hire local youth to work after school and on weekends for $15 an hour. They’ve also created scholarships for their employees — one young woman had schoolbooks paid for by the company. Plus, working around melted-down buttery sugar has its perks.
“I always come home smelling like caramel, and my dog always goes crazy,” said one employee.
The Garofalos rely on two caramel makers — they call them Fred and Ethel — probably because caramel doesn’t always behave.
“Caramel is really temperamental; you miss it by a 10th of a degree — it’s not good,” said Grant, who walks around the kitchen in basketball shorts and an apron his kids gave him that says, “Chez Daddy.”
During the fall and spring, they monitor the weather because the slightest changes can affect the cooking process. Whatever caramel doesn’t come out perfectly silky goes into a pecan and chocolate cluster candy.
In their kitchen, production never stops. Conversations unfold while caramel drips out of sizzling cookers and as they hand-wrap each candy in parchment paper. If you’ve got something to say, you have to project over the clinking and clanking of the team at work. The clock never stops. There’s no time like the present.
“We kind of put everything into this,” said Kelly.