If Christmas tradition was a treat that could be wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with string, it would taste like the caramels made by Holly Olson and Ptarmi Kilgore, co-owners of The Little Red Hen Candy Company.
The Christmas candy tradition runs back decades for Holly. She grew up at her mom’s apron strings, learning to make pies, cookies, cakes and candies for all seasons, but especially for Christmas. Years later, Holly’s childhood friend, Cari, taught her how to make caramels, and the two made a Christmas tradition out of it.
A few years ago, Holly tasted a not-so-sweet moment when she was laid off from her job.
“Friends had always told me I should sell these caramels, and with my time suddenly freed up, I started to think seriously about it,” Holly says.
That job loss turned into a sweet opportunity to share her caramels with Utah.
In true Christmas fashion, she started making, packing and shipping her caramels during the 2011 holiday season — using her own house as home base — with her friend and co-owner Ptarmi. Their business exploded.
“We didn’t know it would take off like that at Christmas,” Holly says. “People became obsessed with our caramels.”
Customers placed orders online, and Ptarmi and Holly pulled in favors for help wrapping and packaging caramels.
“One indicator of how fast we were growing was how quickly we went through ribbon,” Ptarmi says. “That first Christmas, I was running around at 10 at night in the middle of the holiday season, trying to find ribbon.”
In the years since that first Christmas, Little Red Hen has continued to make the nice list, and the business partners consider themselves lucky to get five hours of sleep during peak holiday season.
“Last year we had a few friends tell us, ‘I was over by Arby’s, and I could have sworn I saw you in a little store at midnight. Was that you?’ Yes, that was us — working the night away!” Holly says.
If they’re not making caramels, they’re filling packages with paper shred and caramels, printing shipping labels and packing up their cars to drop off orders at the post office the next day.
Oh, and they wrap each caramel by hand. During the holidays, that adds up to 30,000 individually wrapped caramels that they ship out to loyal customers.
In spite of their few precious hours of sleep and their caramel-wrapping callouses, Ptarmi and Holly find ways to keep their spirits up.
“I love it when we see a customer open their package,” Holly says. “There’s something special about receiving a beautifully wrapped package with your name on it and something sweet inside. Even when we’re dead tired, we keep working for those moments.”