WRITER | JULIE FORD
PHOTOS | HEILMAN’S NUTS & CONFECTIONS
From the old bones of a remodeled Sinclair gas station, Heilman’s Nuts & Confections has been serving the Kalamazoo community with delightful treats since 1988. Carefully curated nuts from the US and Brazil are roasted on the premises, and a wide selection of handmade white, milk, and dark chocolates fill several glass cases. Custom gift baskets at any price range, nuts, and chocolates are shipped worldwide, and, most recently, delivered curbside during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, chocolate is essential!
As an employee for original owner Al Heilman, Rose Herder learned how to make, package, and sell everything in the store. “I worked here for about three years,” says Herder, who, along with her husband Dan, purchased the confectionary in 2006. “I wasn’t hired to do just one particular job – I started out learning how to make some of the candies, caramel corn, caramel apples; it was a combination of learning everything.”
When Heilman announced the sale of his popular confectionary, Herder says she went home and casually suggested to her husband, “Hey, we ought to buy Heilman’s.” Today, the Herders continue to roast hundreds of pounds each year just like “Mr. Heilman” did. By keeping two full-time employees who also knew how to make everything, the ownership transition was seamless.
Nuts are purchased in raw form, and roasting 50 pounds typically takes a couple of hours. Cashews are the customer favorite here, and Herder says she specifically orders them from Brazil for their large size and quality. Their most popular confection is the chocolate-covered caramel pecan cluster named “Creepers.” Herder says that mini-truffles in 15 flavors, each dipped in a choice of white, milk, or dark chocolate, are also popular for their quick and easy bite-size. But it is the Cherry Berry Delights – top of the list in terms of difficulty – that they can hardly keep in the shop. Herder says they are super sticky in the production process and require three people to make them because of how fast they set.
Herder also listens to advice from her customers. During one fall season, she decided to try Honeycrisps for her caramel apples instead of their long-standing tradition of dipping Granny Smiths. The customer response was overwhelmingly in favor of sticking with Granny Smith apples. Herder also uses quality ingredients, and while chocolatiers rarely divulge their chocolate source, Herder says a key ingredient in many of the confections is butter she sources from one particular dairy in Michigan. “A lot of our customers tell us our chocolate is top-of-the-line, and, whatever we do, don’t change the recipe,” says Herder.
Butter is a main ingredient in caramel, and regardless of whether it coats a Granny Smith or is combined with pecans in a Creeper, it is handmade on the premises. Instead of having to unwrap store-bought caramels to melt into their own homemade treats, customers can buy tubs of Heilman’s Nuts & Confections caramel with easy-to-follow instructions for use in a variety of ways, like stirred into a morning cup of coffee.
“I think what a lot of people like about our store is that we can sell our chocolates by the piece,” says Herder. “They can come in, buy two pieces of chocolate, and walk out the door.” For repeat customers, Herder says they hardly get through the door, and the staff is already greeting them with asking if they would like more of what they typically purchase. “I’m just glad people like what we offer,” says Herder. “It’s nice to be told by customers that our business is essential.”
Heilman’s Nuts & Confections
1804 S Westnedge Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269)383-1188 l Nuts2You.com