Tina Vanderpluym and her staff have been busy the past couple of days preparing and dipping 2,000 caramel apples.
The staff had 1,200 apples placed on trays, laid out on top of counters and shelves in the store on Wednesday afternoon as employee Evaristo Rivera constantly stirred a kettle of caramel. Each apple is hand dipped as they prepare for the grand opening of their new shop The Chocolate Dipper, which opens on Friday morning on Main Street in Merced.
It's the second candy shop for Vanderpluym, 49. She's owned The Chocolate Dipper in Salinas for the past 12 years.
"We're considered a specialty shop," Vanderpluym said. "We're unique in that everything is handcrafted. All our candy is made by hand. It's not mass produced. We dip everything ourselves. We even make our own marshmallow."
The doors open for the first time at 10 a.m. at the shop which is located at 319 West Main Street.
"Because Merced has welcomed us with open arms, the reception we received from the mayor and city council has been great, we want to say thank you by selling our caramel apples that day only for $1 until we run out of apples," Vanderpluym said.
Vanderpluym's daughter, Brittney Lowe, 30, is the store manager.
"There's a lot of preparation," Lowe said. "We get all the apples out. We prep them and stick them. We check them to make sure there are no holes or bruises. We lay all the apples out on the counter and then we dip them straight into the kettle."
Customers with a sweet tooth will have all kinds of candies to choose from including creams, nuts and chews, milk and dark chocolates, gummies.
According to Vanderpluym, their top sellers are their turtles, pecans and homemade caramels.
Vanderpluym says she decided to open a store in Merced after watching a lot of her business pick up on this side of Pacheco Pass. The store in Salinas has been delivering a lot of products, especially with a lot of the schools they partner with for fundraisers. She also has a brother living in Merced, who has been in her ear the past couple years telling her to open up a shop here.
"Merced was one of the city's we were looking at," Vanderpluym said. "We also looked at Patterson, Turlock, Tracy, Los Banos and Lathrop. The reason we chose Merced was it just had more of a homey feel. We're very community oriented. We do a lot of business with the schools. We've worked the Cap & Town event and the reception we received from the community and the people was just all good vibes."
Vanderpluym loves the downtown location in Merced. She says her store in Salinas is also located on Main Street. She loves how people can walk by and peek in the window to see what they are making. It has almost a Norman Rockwell painting feel to it.
"Merced doesn't have anything like us," Lowe said. "All Merced has is See's Candies and we're not at that level. We're not making products on that large of a scale. Everything here is made in-house, by hand. Everything that is dipped is dipped in here."
Vanderpluym says a large part of their business is done through fundraisers. Schools and other organizations are able to sell their products and raise money.
"I believe in what our store can do," Vanderpluym said. "I believe our store can help with fundraisers for schools. We're here for community events. We're not just here making candy. I know what are fundraisers are capable of doing in our community. We ship products to Alabama and the East Coast."
The store will be open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturday the store is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shop will be closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Vanderpluym feels her shop will have something that will keep customers coming back.
"I think it's our uniqueness," she said. "We're not the run of the mill candy story. We have specialty items. We offer the fundraisers. Our caramel apples keep customers coming back. We use very good chocolate. Our products will keep customers coming back to us."