Conch baseball coach Ralph Henriquez knows all about the sweet spot – on a baseball bat.
He and his wife DeeDee Henriquez, who was our elected tax collector for 20 years, knew less of a certain sweet spot on Duval Street – Kilwins, purveyor of fine chocolates, premium ice creams, fudge, toffee apples and other confectionery.
“To be honest, we didn’t know anything about Kilwins, but we love everything we’ve learned,” DeeDee said, deftly dipping an Oreo into a tub of liquid chocolate and carefully arranging her creations on a parchment-lined baking sheet. .
The familiar Key West family was looking for a new business opportunity, and the more they learned about Kilwins, the more they appreciated the company’s commitment to customers, quality and its franchisees.
The Henriquezes bought the local Kilwins franchise at 505 Duval Street on August 30 and now satisfy every kind of sweet tooth with premium chocolates, truffles, ice cream, fudge, caramel apples and dipped strawberries. in chocolate, pretzels, Oreos, you name it.
“And we just got approval from the city to add outdoor cafe seating so people can sit down and enjoy their ice cream, fudge and toffee apples,” said Ralph.
“Kilwins ice cream is an exclusive brand and will never be sold in grocery stores, or anywhere other than a Kilwins store,” he said, while DeeDee picked up his special edition seasonal ice cream flavors – pumpkin pie and apple pie – in a perfect crispy waffle cone.
The Michigan-based company has been around for 75 years and will have more than 200 locations by the end of the year, mostly in tourist destinations, said Ralph Henriquez, who will be back on the diamond during baseball season. .
For now, however, the family have swapped their Conch red colors for Kilwins teal behind their new candy counters.
“Kilwins started out in a town called Petoskey, Michigan – the same town where Ernest Hemingway started his writing career. He worked there for the newspaper. The connection was amazing and it felt like it was meant to be,” Ralph said.
“Everything just seemed to be going,” DeeDee agreed, adding that the couple spent 12 intense days in Michigan at Kilwins University, learning recipes, processes, expectations and everything else about the operation.
The Key West Kilwins has been in its Duval Street location for 14 years.
“We are the third franchise owners here,” Ralph said. “And we’re already talking with them about doing a second location somewhere else on Duval Street and/or the Keys, but first we have to learn the ropes here.
“We’re having a great time and are excited to help bring more downtown residents. This store has been around for 14 years…and it’s always done well with tourists and foot traffic, but we hope that with our long-standing community ties in the Keys, we can attract more locals as well.
They are already planning to sponsor youth sports teams, organize fundraisers and donate baskets and other items for groups to be raffled off.
“Kilwins will be absolutely involved and invested in the local community,” DeeDee said.
As soon as the Henriquezes learned the ropes, they immediately realized that many of their customers were just as familiar with Kilwins products.
“People come in and know exactly where to go, exactly what flavors they want and what sizes they come in. They have their favorites and do the selling for us, convincing others what to try,” DeeDee said, laughing and holding out this reporter. a scoop of pumpkin ice cream in a waffle cone.
Right on cue, a couple pulled up on the pavement outside, swapping tastes of their own ice cream cones, a Kilwins shopping bag swinging from their left hands.
“It’s delicious; try it,” she said.
“I told you so,” he replied. “Everything is great there.”