Journey from graphic designer to candy maker has been a dream come true for Cheryl Stoner
It would seem a long way from designing logos to cooking up a batch of caramels.
But that’s the transition made by Cheryl Stoner, former owner of a graphic design/public relations/branding firm and now the proud entrepreneur behind Cheryl’s Caramels, which she cooks up in her home kitchen.
Stoner sells her caramels primarily at street fairs and every Thursday evening at the Sunset Market presented by MainStreet Oceanside.
“I have met the friendliest, funnest people,” at the street markets she said.
It’s so different from what I did,” Stoner said, “never once in my life did I think I was going to sell caramels.”
But, she said, “I am using every bit of my knowledge.”
Stoner has lived in Oceanside for more than 30 years. She retired her design business five years ago, but her designs still can be seen on the logos for KOCT community television station and Oceanside Unified School District.
For a decade, Stoner also was publicity director for the Seagaze Concert Series.
“I’ve worn many hats in my life,” Stoner said, so candy-making is just the latest.
And “I have been making caramels for ages,” she said, using them primarily for birthday and Christmas gifts.
The caramel recipe comes from her husband Ron’s late grandmother.
When she ”kicked it up a notch” and started selling the caramels and adding different flavors, she thought of it as a supplementary retirement income.
But now, she said, “it’s become full-time.”
Stoner jumped through all the paperwork hoops necessary to get the required permits under California’s Cottage Foods law. Limited as to the amount of money she can make, Stoner can sell at an open market but not in a storefront.
The end of October, Stoner celebrated the first anniversary of “Cheryl’s Caramels.”
She set up a booth to sell her candy at the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at Mission San Luis Rey.
“My experience in design and marketing have been a big advantage” she said, “as I do all my own packaging, advertising and marketing.”
Actually, her husband has a lot to do with that packaging.
She admits putting him to work in the family dining room cutting and wrapping each sheet of the cooled caramels in an individual piece of cellophane paper. He also comes down to the market to help her set up and knock down her booth.
“It’s a family endeavor,” Stoner said, involving - besides her husband - her son, Brad, and grandchildren, Ethan, 6, Allison, 4, and Ashley, 2.
There are nine different flavors – old-fashioned, organic sea salt, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, raspberry, coffee, gingerbread, rum and maple syrup. For the holidays, she’s come up a pumpkin-pie flavor.
When people tell her “I never heard of caramels in different flavors,” she replies it’s because she invented them.
“It’s kind of fun,” she said, to let her customers help her develop the flavors.
The main ingredients of her caramels are cream and butter. Stoner said people have asked her about making them fat-free or sugar-free, but she has found that doesn’t work and instead puts a kind-of paraffin-looking glaze on the product.
“You need fat and sugar,” Stoner said, and “a little bit of sugar is better for you” than some of the chemically produced substitutes.
Preparing for a big show, she said, can involve a 12-hour day of caramel-making, sometimes with two or three big aluminum pots of candy cooking at the same time on her kitchen stove.
Stoner said she tastes every batch and won’t sell anything “not up to my standards, but she never throws anything away, either. The family is happy to have the rejects.
And she says a phenomenon – social media - not around when she first entered marketing is a big help, and she makes customized labels for individuals to give as gifts or for companies to use if they order a dozen or more boxes.
“I had no idea it was going to be so successful,” she says of the business. “Who knew?”
Stoner will share samples at the MainStreet mixer Dec. 2 at Oceanside Museum of Art and is donating a “caramel buffet” to the raffle. She and her husband, using pine moulding spray-painted with bright-red lacquer, make the wooden trays on which the buffet of caramels sits.
As, for the future, she said, “I have a lot of big decisions to make” about how much further to take the business because any growth would require her to hire employees.
“Do I want to work that hard?,” she asks herself, about possibly opening a store.
Stoner said she intends “to be very cautious and take baby steps.”
But, she said, “God willing, I will always do the Sunset Market.”
And she’s so pleased with the changes she has seen in downtown Oceanside over the years, Stoner said, from people avoiding the area completely in the early 1980s to hearing San Diegans at the Little Italy Festa last month ask about Oceanside’s burgeoning craft beer and foodie scene.
Story by Lola Sherman.