Dannah Davies at NY NOW
“Eat candy, be happy,” said the sign at Dannah Davies’ Sweetsmith Candy Co. booth at this week’s NY NOW home/lifestyle/gift market trade show at New York’s Javits Center, and Davies, at least couldn’t seem much happier: Her “Handmade Candy with Soul” line was a popular sampling stop throughout the event, thanks to handcrafted varieties like Aztec Cocoa Peanut Brittle, Bananas Foster Peanut Brittle and Jalapeno Peanut Brittle--based, like all her flavors, on a family recipe she memorized as a teen.
But candymaking ws always a major part of Davies’ life, though it wasn’t until hard times hit her family that it became her career path.
"When I was 16, we were broke, and unable to pay our rent,” she says. “As a last resort, we used food stamps to buy candy ingredients, and sold family recipe sweets in parking lots, and farmers’ markets to pay bills.”
Even though “the late nights and early mornings were not glamorous,” Davies still realized then that making candy was what she wanted to do with her life--though she’d been helping her mom make candy since she was 3.
“My first solo attempt came when I was 11,” she recalls, “sour apple lollipops--but I burned them! So I convinced people to buy two for a dollar: I said they were meant to be that way!”
She founded Sweetsmith Candy Co. in 2012, when she was 19, with money saved for school that she’d earned from paper routes and other jobs growing up.
At first she made her candy at home, selling it once a week at a local farmer’s market. When she saw a need for allergen-free candy, she decided to concoct product that was more appealing than that available then to people with wheat, soy, dairy and egg sensitivities, and was soon able to quit her day job, rent a commercial kitchen and hire help.
Based in Strathmore, Alberta, Canada, Sweetsmith candies are entirely gluten- and egg-free, with many also free of dairy, nuts, soy and preservatives. Davies also has vegan candy options, and sugar-free varieties--having spent six years experimenting with sugar alternatives in finding a sweetener that tasted good and was natural.
Davies has developed over 25 flavors, but generally has 20 on hand at any given time.
“I like creating innovative flavors most, but it’s really a random process,” she says. “I get an idea and go with it. Sometimes I get two a week, sometimes I don’t think of one for a few months. And sometimes it takes a year or two to make them.”
She cites Green Tea Lavender Brittle, for its “full serving of matcha,” also her favorite Coconut Brittle, which “tastes like a vacation.”
And Davies notes that her “weirdest“ flavor is Smokey Bacon Peanut Brittle, which has real bacon--though she hastily points out that everything else is at least vegetarian.