Business

Sweet life: Catch up with Sharon Nikko, co-owner of Snoqualmie’s venerable Candy Factory

Sharon Nikko at the Sno Falls Candy Factory, with her friend Corny Bear. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Sharon Nikko at the Sno Falls Candy Factory, with her friend Corny Bear.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

The question wasn’t meant as a joke, but Sharon Nikko couldn’t stop laughing after being asked how her employees like working at the Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory.

“I don’t know, we’ll have to ask!” she finally said, still chuckling, then she called out, “Hey, Barb! She’s asking me if my employees enjoy working here!”

Barb McClain an employee of 16 years, gave her employer an exasperated smile and said, “That’s a silly question!”

“Hey Cam, do you enjoy working here?” Nikko asked another staffer.

Cam Pham who’s been making candy at the shop for 20 years — two years longer than Nikko and her husband, Wes Sorstokke have owned the business — shrugged off the question. “Yes! That’s why I’m here!”

“They’re wonderful people to work for,” added McClain, whose daughter has also worked at the shop for many years.

So maybe it was a dumb question. What could possibly be the downside of working in a candy factory, surrounded by bright colors and mouth-watering smells all day?

Not much, if you ask Nikko, but then, she knew she wanted to run the candy factory as soon as she saw it in 1996. They bought it from Paul LaFranci, who produced hand-made caramel corn, fudge, taffy, nut brittles from the same recipes his parents had used running their own candy shop in San Francisco, and they still use those recipes today.

“I didn’t change a thing,” Nikkos said. “It’s really very much the same place it was 16 years ago. I think he had a good thing going, and we carried it on.”

She did reject one of LaFranci’s ideas, though, for the cafe side of the business. “He just did candy,” she said, “…and he told us, ‘Oh, you don’t want to do (the cafe), you just want to rent that out to somebody else.’ and I looked at it and thought ‘No, I think I will take that!’”

After all, she laughed, “It’s what I do.”

For most of Nikko’s life, she’s been doing some type of restaurant or service work, going back to when she graduated from Issaquah High School. Her first job was bank clerk, and her next was waitress. She was a checker at Safeway, and, in a very exciting stage of her career at Safeway, she was chosen as one of 13 checkers to open the corporation’s first barcode-scanner store in the state.

Cashier experience, she thinks, is what got her the job, “and maybe they were looking for a certain personality.”

That’s what Nikko looks for when she’s hiring for the store. There are usually about eight part-time people on staff, and a few more in the busy summers, and each of them has to have something that makes them stand out.

“You’ve got to start with personality,” Nikko said. “You can train them to do nearly anything, but you need … someone who thinks work is fun.”

Especially at the Candy Factory, she said, because people come there for more than the hand-made caramel corn, fudge, taffy, nut brittles, and other sweet treats.

“I tell employees that customers usually come here to have fun. They bring their kids and they want their kids to have a fun time,” she said, “so I just tell (employees) to be natural and have fun.”

The shop has seen very little employee turnover in Nikko’s tenure, and she’s grateful for that, since she worked so hard to keep it that way. She was used to juggling more than one job at a time, so when the store needed to downsize three years ago, it was actually an easy decision for her.

“We had too many employees,” she said. “Really, somebody had to go. But I really liked all of my employees, and I really didn’t want to lay off anybody, so I thought, ‘ok, I’ll go.’ So I went out and got a second job, and kept the employees.”

Her second job, also considered full time, is in sales at Macy’s. It’s a nice change of pace from the shop, where she serves as bookkeeper and weekend  cashier, but not the “retirement job” she used to dream about.

“What’s funny is years ago, when I was working hard in grocery stores, I thought, ‘I can’t wait till I’m older, when I can retire and just have this easy job at Bon Marche where I’d be standing there folding towels.’ Now that I’m there, I know that’s not a true picture!”

Hard work is not a problem for Nikko, who is used to multiple jobs, or, in the case of the candy store, two jobs in one. Her double workload even includes the 21 years she worked at Safeway’s corporate offices, in the IT department. “While I worked at Safeway, I also had a second job waittressing,” she recalls, with a deep sigh. “I can’t wait to retire!” she says with another laugh.

Nikko isn’t entirely sure what retirement will look like, but said “Wes will definitely sing (in a popular barbershop quartet) and coach, and I will definitely have more time in my yard… that needs attention.”

She’s also not sure when it will happen, partly because she really enjoys her work—all of it. “Your work ethic never changes,” she said. “You’re always trying to make things better…. and in order to own a business you have to be really passionate about what you do. If I didn’t love this, I’d be out of here.”

Learn more www.snofallscandy.com, 8102 Railroad Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie, (425) 888-0439.

 

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