Since '28, Freese's Candy has taken chocolate hearts very seriously.
When’s the next order of fairy food coming in? It’s a question Wendy Matel, co-owner of Freese’s Candy Shoppe, hears from customers clamoring for their signature, best-selling nougats, chocolate coated around a honeycomb, spongy center.
“When I make it,” Matel says in response. Candy at Freese’s still comes not from trucks or factories but from the hands of Wendy and her husband co-owner, Mike, who make it on site. The craftmanship comes through in the fancy M to signify maple walnut or an elaborate C for cordial cherries. “Dipping candy is a lost art,” Wendy says, adding that it’s also very hard work. The store, which has been at its current spot since 1973, is just down the street from its first location, which opened in 1928 and burned to the ground decades later.
Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Wendy: “I love dark chocolate. My kids, even when they were little, ate only dark chocolate.”
Mike: “Milk chocolate. The sweeter the better.”
Any notable customers?
Wendy: “When Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan was archbishop of Milwaukee, he would walk behind the counter and eat everything. We’ve hand-delivered candy to him in New York City a couple of times. After Mass, I would walk by his quarters, and he’d yell out, ‘Wendy, do you have my turtles?'”
As if candy wasn’t enough, you bought a complementary business, Heavenly Roasted Nuts. Why?
Mike: “I had season tickets at County Stadium. The fellow that owned the business had stands there. He was going to retire. The nut business and candy business made perfect sense, so we bought him out. Our first year was in 2001, when Miller Park opened.”
Heavenly Roasted Nuts also has stands at Lambeau Field. Who’s in charge there?
Sam: “I am. There have been 12- to 14-hour days. But it’s fun. This is our first year back at Lambeau since 2007. Season ticket holders say they’re glad we’re back.”
What’s the best part of owning a candy store?
Wendy “We have the most awesome wonderful customers. It’s so much work, people don’t understand. We work hard to make people happy.”
Do you have a succession plan?
Mike: “We make a good living doing this. It will be a good situation for our kids. Our youngest really wants to take over the business, but she’s only 13! She likes candy as much as me.”
7312 W. Greenfield Ave.
Otto Freese opened a candy store and ice cream parlor in 1928. When Freese died in the 1950s, his wife, Helen, and her son Richard took over. In 1973, they sold it to their close friends Barbara and Richard Turner, the aunt and uncle of current owner Wendy Matel. She and husband Mike bought the store in 1995.
Family Members on Staff
Five full-time and three part-time at the store. Overall, about 30, including seasonal employees at stands at Miller Park and Lambeau Field
Valentine’s Day Splurge
A five-pound Valentine’s Day chocolate heart with a price tag of $180.
‘Freese’s Candy Shop’ appears in the February 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find it on newsstands beginning January 30, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.
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