Air Force Vet Builds a Kingdom of Candy in Dover
Lickee’s & Chewy’s Candies & Creamery may have just opened in Dover last September, but it was actually born in Afghanistan in 2008, in the imagination of an Air Force Intelligence Officer who just loved candy.
Back then, when Chris Guerrette heard his colleague exclaim over a recently delivered care package, “That’s a lot of lickees and chewies!” Chris knew he had stumbled upon a name for his long dreamed of candy store. “Lickees and chewies” is military slang for snacks.
Fast forward from that Afghanistan office in 2008 to Dover, 10 years later, and Chris is madly trying to find enough part-time workers for the coming busy season at Lickee’s & Chewy’s and his “Kingdom of Caramelot.” He’s trying to keep up with his first store, The Candy Bar, in Durham. And he’s hoping to be able to attend another chocolatier course in April. “I’m my own worst enemy,” Chris says about his ambitions.
In 2015, Chris retired after 25 years with the Air Force and that’s when he began turning his 10-year dream into a reality. A lifelong “candy fiend,” he says he always loved candy, he loved the flavors and the colors, and he loved the way it always made people happy. He was also lucky enough to have visited candy shops all over the world. He knew what he wanted.
While still working as a civilian with the Air Force in Portsmouth, Chris purchased the beloved Durham shop, The Candy Bar. After two years of tremendous growth there, he began to envision opening a second store and he set his sights on nearby Portsmouth.
His purchase of The Candy Bar had been pretty straightforward, Chris explains, since the building existed and the business established. He had a somewhat fuzzy idea of a second store with larger retail space and more seating, he knew he was going to need a lot of advice.
Still focused on Portsmouth as his future store location, Chris was contacted by the economic development committee of Dover. “They do a great job at looking for businesses that would round out what Dover has to offer,” Chris said. “They pitched me on why I should put my new store in Dover.”
Then a chance encounter with a realtor ultimately made Dover a reality. The location Chris discovered had an added benefit, being right across the street from the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, with the space he wanted for storage, retail and seating. But, it was going to require construction. He knew he was going to need a lot of advice.
NH SBDC business advisor Warren Daniel had worked with the previous owner of The Candy Bar, and with many other businesses in the Durham area, Chris said. “That made him the obvious connection to work with on my idea.”
“I wrote my business plan and ran it by Warren five or six times,” Chris said. “He’d send it back, I’d tweak it. That probably took six months or more. There were a lot of big picture items that I didn’t realize I was going to have to deal with.”
He said Warren was instrumental in helping him find the banks that would be willing to fund his plan. The two worked out three different proposals and, when the banks accepted all three, Warren helped him vet them. “Then, throughout the construction phase, things would keep coming up and it was extremely helpful to run them by Warren. He’d done all this before,” Chris said.
The loan came through and construction began in February or March of 2018, with plenty of twists and turns, and “expenses exceeding our estimates,” Chris said. “It was really helpful to bounce things off of Warren. We worked mostly through email at that point. I couldn’t even find the time for our usual meetings.”
Chris would run paperwork by Warren get his advice on how to do more research. They’ve since worked on questions about trademarks. “It is so good to talk with him, to get his insights and have him put me on the right track,” Chris said. “There’s no way I could keep up with it all by myself.”
Construction completed, the shop opened in September with three full-time and several part-timers. It quickly grew to 5 full-time and 10 part-time employees, and Chris needs more.
“It kinda worked out,” he says.
He had experienced similar growth before, with The Candy Bar. When Chris grew the ice cream flavors there from 4 to 16, and the number of products he sold reached into the 900s, he faced a decision: Stick with his civilian job in the Air Force or become a full-time candy maker.
In Durham, he got to know what people liked and didn’t, and that’s what spurred him into taking classes and seminars in making caramels and chocolates, and ultimately becoming a certified chocolatier. At some point, he was building a display of his caramels in his Durham store and that’s when the idea of Caramelot occurred to him—a mythical place where Lickee and Chewy are characters in a medieval setting.
He won’t stop there. He plans to feature his characters in many ways, including an on-site puppet show. There’s a script he’s got for a book and a screenplay, or maybe a cartoon series.
“We don’t really know for sure. It’s already pretty magical inside, but it’s not even close to being done in that area,” he said.
Ben and Jerry’s of Vermont comes to mind, but Chris wants to go bigger. “We want to be a destination store. We want people to think of us as they’re traveling through the area, and to make us part of their time on or near the Seacoast,” Chris said.
Others are already taking notice. WMUR’s show Chronicle broadcast from Lickee’s & Chewy’s the first week of March and featured the story of the shop one day. Lines were out the door the following weekend and remained such for seven hours straight. “We managed,” Chris says. “We’re learning fast and we’re going to have to be ready for the truly warm weather.”
Since fall, Chris hasn't had much time for his regular meetings with advisor Warren, though he knows he should make the time. "If he saw the state of my accounting, he'd probably have a heart attack," Chris admitted. He's just been too busy with everything going on. Warren did, however, stop in to Licky's and Chewy's shortly after Valentine's Day, which was a very good day in the store. "I showed him my sales numbers for Valentine's." Chris joked, "He seemed a little shocked."