Caruso’s amps up chocolate making during Easter season

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019

DOWAGIAC — Caruso’s Candy and Soda Shop is one of the longest standing, family-owned businesses in Dowagiac, and as old as the business itself are many of its tools, methods and traditions.

Caruso’s owner, Julie Johnson, has carried on the work of her grandparents, the first owners of Caruso’s, for many years and said the tradition of making sweet, Easter-themed treats has been around since the opening of the Dowagiac candy shop in 1922.

Holiday seasons at Caruso’s are lick clockwork, according to Johnson. Christmas is the biggest chocolate seller, followed by Easter, with Valentine’s Day in third place. The closer the holiday gets, the more chocolates the shop sells. Although Caruso’s has dozens of mainstay confections throughout the year, seasons like Easter call for the specialties and favorites like chocolate bunnies, cream-filled chocolate eggs and chocolate nests and baskets.

Caruso’s longevity and seasonal pandering are not the only novelties at the shop. Johnson, true to the tradition of her family-owned business, still hand makes all of Caruso’s chocolates, including the Easter rabbits and other varieties of themed treats.

“We’re going into our 97th year in September,” Johnson said. “We use the same recipes, same copper kettles, same wooden paddles to stir everything with. We’re one of the few places left that actually does everything by hand.”

Johnson even uses some of the chocolate molds her grandparents used in the early days of the shop. As the holiday seasons get busier, she does not skimp on the originality of the craft. Maintaining the original methods is as important as satisfying the demand of the sweet tooth, according to Johnson.

The process is demanding, however. Johnson will take several hours to meet the candy quota, and she has to begin early in the season to prepare for the influx of parents and grandparents filling Easter baskets and candy dishes.

“[The bunnies] are very time consuming,” Johnson said. “They don’t multiply like the real ones do. I wish they did.”

Caruso’s chocolate bunnies are all solid chocolate, and their prices range from $1 to $36. The $36 bunny is two pounds and about a little under one foot in height. Johnson will send the bunnies and other varieties of seasonal specials all across the country and the world. She has sent Easter bunnies as far away as Japan.

Caruso’s also makes Easter baskets for customers. Some customers bring in the same baskets year after year to be filled and given to grateful children on Easter morning, according to Johnson.

Keeping her shelves stocked with traditional, hand-made candies is important to Johnson because she believes in the value of taking time in the day and age of constant movement and busyness.

“Life is so fast-paced and changing so fast now,” Johnson said. “A lot of people thrive on keeping that nostalgic atmosphere like we have in the store, or like what they received when they were kids. We’ve got five generations now of people who have received our chocolates and our bunnies, so it’s a tradition among a lot of families.”