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Home sweet home

Sally Lane’s Candy Farm keeps a beloved tradition alive in Paris
Story and photos by Allison Morgan 2/1/2013

 

Pam Rockwell and her family are carrying on a sweet tradition in Paris after buying Sally Lane’s Candy Farm in 2006 and reopening its landmark retail store last spring. They still use the original recipes from the 55-year-old company’s owner and namesake while adding their own specialties like white chocolate-covered popcorn.
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Pam Rockwell doesn’t mind admitting it:

She can’t cook.

Then why in the world would she buy a candy business founded on 50-plus years of handcrafting quality confections?

“I just hated to see a tradition go by the wayside,” says Pam, the vivacious co-owner and self-described “mouth” of Sally Lane’s Candy Farm in her hometown of Paris. “It’s good candy, and people have loved it for years. We’re continuing to make all the old recipes while adding our own new creations all the time. But I stay out of the kitchen. You’ll find me sealing, packaging, tying bows, taking orders, running the cash register . . . never cooking!”

Luckily, other members of the family are more culinary-inclined and have developed quite a knack for candy-making in the nearly seven years since Pam and husband Rick, along with her parents, Shelby and Bobby Freeman, became fifth owners of the highly popular confectionary.  The business was established in 1958 by its namesake, Sally Lane Jones, who operated it with her husband, Jack, until 1973.  While the candy company remained successful for its different owners through the years, it had been sitting idle for months when the Rockwells and Freemans decided to buy it.

At the time, Pam and Rick, who works for AT&T, were living in Murfreesboro and only expected the candy company to be a seasonal, part-time job. 

They were wrong.

“We thought it would be a weekend business,” says Pam.  “We made our first batch in August 2006, and from October to January, I only went home twice.  I told Rick, ‘Oops. I think we’re going to have to move back to Paris.’  We truly never dreamed it would be like this.  It just gets crazier and crazier.”

They did return to Paris, and now Sally Lane’s is truly a family affair with three generations working together in the company.  Shelby and Bobby are both retired and devote most of their time to the business, while Pam’s daughter, Amelia Kate Martin, and brother, Rob Freeman, work full time as the main candy-makers.  Amelia Kate says she gets her cooking skills from Shelby, who once had a catering business.

“My grandmother has always been the family cook, and I got that from her — not my mother,” laughs Amelia Kate, whose younger sister, Maddie, also helps out part-time.  “I get so much joy from the creativity of trying different things in the kitchen.”

While making their own mark on the business, the latest owners are staying true to what has made Sally Lane a beloved brand.  In particular, they’ve perfected the process of making the exclusive pink-and-green mints that were Sally Lane’s first and most famous product.  In fact, these mints even have a special connection to the Freemans.

“We had Sally Lane’s mints at our wedding in 1956,” says Bobby, whose father and grandfather farmed and were members of Henry Farmers Co-op.  “Sally’s husband, Jack, was the florist here in town, and her stepson did our flowers.  She sent some of her mints for the reception.”

Through most of Sally Lane Candy Farm’s history, the products were made and sold in a distinctive pink building on Highway 79 just north of Paris.  The old structure, however, no longer meets the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s standards for food manufacturing, so the company’s newest owners moved production to the 125-year-old Freeman family farm on rural Gum Springs Road.

They transformed their “carriage house” into a candy house, installing a commercial kitchen and outfitting it with all of Sally Lane’s original equipment, including the long, marble-top tables that are essential to the candy-making process.  (When hot candy is poured on marble, it cools more quickly, making it easier to work with, Rob explains.)  There’s also an office, showroom, and a climate-controlled closet to store the chocolate and other temperature-sensitive ingredients.

On any given day inside the candy kitchen, the aromas of melted chocolate, peppermint, and freshly popped popcorn blend for an overwhelming sensory experience as Amelia Kate and Rob follow Sally Lane’s original handwritten recipes to create mints, chocolate barks, fudge, divinity, and more. 

“We try to follow those recipes as close as we can,” says Amelia Kate.  “So many people tell us that our candy tastes just like it used to be, and that’s a compliment to us.”

The family is making their own tasty traditions, too, including a variety of chocolate-dipped confections and their wildly popular white chocolate popcorn.  This sweet-and-salty treat was even featured on the Rachael Ray Show as “Snack of the Day” on March 9, 2009, after Pam and Shelby gave the celebrity chef a sampling of Sally Lane goodies at a book-signing event in Nashville.  All 200 members of the audience that day got 8-ounce bags of Sally Lane’s White Chocolate Popcorn that were hand-delivered to New York by Pam and Shelby themselves.

“We were thrilled to death,” says Pam.  “We didn’t get to be in the audience, but we waited outside to see people coming out with their bags of our popcorn.  Some of them even wanted their pictures made with us.  It was a great experience.”

Until recently, Sally Lane products were sold only at local gift shops, through Internet and phone orders, at special events, or occasionally to candy house visitors.  But in March 2012, the company returned to its roots when the family reopened a retail store in the original “pink house.”  Located along the busy route that leads to Kentucky Lake, the store is a much more visible and accessible location for Sally Lane lovers.  Pam, who remembers visiting the store as a youngster, says she’s proud to see the old-fashioned glass candy counters once again stocked with a dizzying array of delicacies.  

“As soon as we opened, we realized the importance of it being here,” says Pam.  “It’s more of a landmark than a store.  It’s part of Paris history.  We are really preserving something here.”

Customer Vivian May, once a Paris resident who now lives on her family’s beef and row-crop farm in Hurricane Mills, says she also has fond memories of visiting Sally Lane’s store and, in recent years, has ordered the company’s confections for several special occasions.  Daughter Laura served the mints as favors at her college graduation dinner and wedding reception, and just last month, Vivian sent a Sally Lane sampler to the family of son Josh’s fiancee in Colorado.

“I am proud to be from Tennessee and like sharing what is good about our state,” says Vivian.  “Being a farmer, I like to shop locally, and Sally Lane candy is a part of the Pick Tennessee Products Program.  Plus, Shelby, Bobby, and Pam are nice to work with, the price is reasonable, and the product is good.” 

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Sally Lane’s candy makers and marketers are filling orders and stocking up for those who want to give sweets to their sweethearts.  Mother’s Day and Easter are also busy, but Christmas is by far the most hectic time, says Amelia Kate.  This past December, 16-hour days were pretty common as the family scrambled to make enough candy to meet the demand.  But they’re not complaining.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Amelia Kate.  “We like being crazy. And I enjoy working with my family, so it doesn’t seem like work to me.”

From Shelby’s perspective, she’s thrilled to have her kids in the candy store.

“I probably enjoy it more than anyone else because I still have all my family here in my little nest,” says Shelby with her ever-present smile.  “Bob and I really like that we can walk out our front door and spend every day with our kids, grandkids, and even great-grandkids.”

While he never expected that his calling would be candy, Rob says he believes he’s found a career rather than a “dead-end job.”

“When they bought the business, I thought it might be a part-time deal,” says Rob, whose wife, Erica, also helps out when needed.  “I never envisioned working here except to help out, but it’s turned into a full-time thing, and I feel like I have a future here.”

So, after 55 years and five owners, what’s the secret to Sally Lane’s sweet success? Pam says it’s all about good products made by real people.

“I think our customers like the fact that it’s us — people they know — making and selling the candy right here in Paris,” she says.  “Having the store open again has really shown us that.  People like to stop by, visit with us, sample our products, and share their memories of Sally Lane’s.  We’re really lucky to be part of something so enjoyable.”

To learn more about Sally Lane’s Candy Farm, to place orders, or to find out current retail store hours, call 731-642-5801 or visit www.sallylanes.com.

 
 
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