Sweet Success Story by Rod Stanley, Dexter Historian

Rod Stanley wrote this in 2021:
I am a little surprised that on this Valentine’s Day that no one has mentioned that “Sweet Success Story” called Drew’s Chocolates. I know members of my generation and previous ones bought many pounds of Drew’s to give to girlfriends and spouses. It was the go to place for candy in the area. The thing about Drew’s was its quality and consistency. I don’t know about you but every box of chocolates I bought, at the time $1.25 for a pound box, was the same great quality. That was because Mrs. Helen Drew would have it no other way.
Mrs. Drew started her candy business back in 1927 after visiting her husband Lloyd’s brother in Vermont. Fred Drew was dabbling in the candy business and Helen brought back some of his methods and recipes to Iowa. It was not something she had planned on being a business but just a hobby. She continued to correspond with Fred until she decided to try it on her own. She started with a kerosene lamp under a copper kettle with hot water in it. She had a Pyrex casserole dish with chocolate in it. The water melted the chocolate and she used a spoon to stir it. As you can imagine this was a time consuming process but she was not doing it for candy to sell. The candy she made and dipped was given away to friends and family. It was not long before the people in Dexter were telling her she was on to something and maybe she should expand and sell her candy.
So in 1929, Drew’s Chocolates officially opened for business. The shop would be located in the basement of their house in Dexter on what eventually became US Highway 6. Mrs. Drew bought boxes of chocolate that came in 10 pound cakes. It had to be cut up into smaller pieces before it could be melted. Lloyd used a butcher knife to begin with but it was hard work. They contacted a man in Dexter that ran a machine shop. His name was Bob Boyd. Bob designed what he called a “guillotine” operated by a pulley that cut up the pieces of chocolate. Bob’s wife, Francis, later became the chief cook of most of the candy made in the shop. They used 3 different types of chocolate. Dark, Milk, and White. Each have different % of chocolate liquor.
Fred Drew built the first mechanical dipper for Mrs. Drew from an old Ford transmission. It was nothing but a big steel bowl with the transmission turning it with an automatic stirrer. There was a heat source as well that kept the chocolate melted. This enabled Mrs. Drew more chocolate to work with. It was not long before Fred Drew’s relatives built 2 stainless steel dippers. They were large enough so that 2 people could dip at the same time, one on each end. They also kept the chocolate at 91 degrees the perfect temp for chocolate dipping. The dipper stirred the chocolate constantly and flowed over a raised platform. There was a divider between the platform and the main basin of the dipper to keep candy from falling in. The candy was fork dipped. Fork dipping was one of the most skillful aspects of candy making. Mrs. Helen Clausen, who I knew well, was one of the most skilled dippers in the shop.
Some other skilled dippers were: Betty Lenocker, Pearl Schaffer, Betty Wells, and Maxine Paullin. There were probably others but these were the ones my Mom remembered. My Mom said,” Helen was so skilled she could dip candy in her sleep”.  Mrs. Drew said, “if you were dipping right you could put a dime on your wrist and it would stay there”. You only used your fingers to control the fork. After the candy was dipped it was refrigerated in storage rooms between 56 and 60 degrees.
The shop had many different kinds of candy. Many were recipes from Lloyd’s relatives in New Hampshire. Mrs. Drew preferred dark chocolate but my Mom said they sold more milk chocolate than anything else. I should say my Mom worked at Drew’s for 30 years. Some of the candy I remember was: Nougat, Fudge, opera fudge, penuche, caramels, Montevideos, toffee, peanut clusters, cashew clusters, chocolate covered cherries, and of course many different flavored cremes. They also made a candy called rosebuds. They had a pecan caramel called Drew Drops.
All the candy was sold from the shop. There was once that someone convinced Mrs. Drew to sell her candy in other towns. She sent some to Atlantic and the word got back to her that they had allowed the candy to melt. That was the end of selling outside of Dexter. She would close the shop for the Summer as she felt the heat would hurt the quality of the candy. Plus that was when Mrs. Drew did her fishing. They would start up in September to gear up for the holiday season. Their advertising was former customers spreading the word and there was no lack of customers. They shipped out, I don’t even want to guess how much, chocolate all over the world. She sent out reminders to customers to get their orders early for the holidays, including Valentines Day. Otherwise you might get left out.
Mrs. Drew employed many people. She picked out people who wanted to work hard and take pride in the product they were making. Most of employees were ladies from the Dexter area. She had 15 people and then employed more during the holidays. I read somewhere that you had to be on your toes and keeping busy because you never knew when Mrs. Drew was going to be showing up. Quality was her goal!
What started out as a hobby ended up a “Sweet Success Story.”
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Drew’s Chocolates is still in business along White Pole Road in Dexter, Iowa.
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Historian and author, Rod Stanley, wearing his Bonnie & Clyde shirt (his most popular programs are about their 1933 shootout with authorities in Dexfield Park), standing in front of one of the toteboards from the 1948 National Plowing Match, which was held just north of Dexter (another of his programs). He’s also told that 11-minute story over Our American Stories.

Author Rod Stanley gives lively programs about local history, especially Dexter, Dallas County, and Guthrie County history.

20 comments

    • There were people with money! Leora had a couple of brothers, the ones who were allowed to finish high school, who had their own businesses and drove new cars. Leora reported that new cars drove through Dexter all the time. Well, Drew’s is still along the highway through town! It just kept growing, little by little. Mr. Drew had a job at the railroad station, so that helped get them started.

  1. It was so much fun learning more details about Drew’s Chocolates and how they were made! Is it safe to assume that the shop has air conditioning now and stays open in the summer?

  2. My mother Cleo hoy, worked there when she was in high school that would have had to have been about 1931

  3. SWEET memories for sure of growing up in Dexter. The family of Harold Jobst provided cream for the candy for many years. I and my siblings milks cows morning and night to provide cream.

  4. What a sweet story Ms. Joy. I enjoyed learning a bit more history today ma’am. Thank you for sharing. Sounds like the Drew family and their unexpected business developed quite a legacy ma’am. God bless.

  5. In 1956 Mrs. Drew was making candy in the summer. I babysat her two grandchildren while she worked downstairs. I lived there several weeks. The children were quite small and such good kids. She told me the kids could come downstairs with me to get candy anytime. I suppose that was only once a day, but do not remember. Of course, I didn’t mind taking part in the jaunts downstairs!

  6. This is certainly a sweet success story! I so enjoyed reading this. i do love chocolate and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This was a perfect post for Valentines!

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