HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Many businesses here in the Midstate and across the country have taken major hits in the wake of the COVID pandemic. For small businesses in food service, the journey through 2020 was filled with many twists and turns that had owners adjusting on the fly.
Jess Kost, who owns sweet717 in Harrisburg, was no different. Jess owns a candy shop in the Broad Street Market and has been there since 2015. Her passion for homemade treats goes back even further. “I like to say it all began with fudge, which is my grandmother’s recipe. So I grew up making fudge and always had a passion for it,” Jess said.
“In 2009 I started the business, created a website, and made/sold fudge as more of a hobby. Over the next several years, I began attending festivals and fairs, setting up as a pop-up vendor and selling fudge,” Jess said. “The more I did it, the more I loved it and began wanting to do it full time.”
Jess took the then named fudge-o-lutely to the Broad Street Market in 2015, where she pounced on an open stand, quit her full-time job, and opened up the shop. As the business grew, so did the menu. “I quickly learned that not everybody likes fudge, so I learned to make marshmallows and to add to the menu,” Jess said. “Over the years, I continued learning to make new products, and now I have a wide variety including toffee and caramels, nonpareils, and more.”
With Jess expanding the menu, fudge-o-lutely rebranded into sweet717 in 2019. The name change was borne by Jess’s loyal customers.
Jess saw steady growth heading into 2020. She then had to close up shop in March due to the pandemic. Jess managed to think quickly and keep business afloat in other ways. “I spent that time revamping my website and Etsy shop and offering free local deliveries,” Jess said.
Of course, Jess couldn’t do it all on her own. “The community really pulled through in supporting me and other small businesses in the area, and they kept me busy! It ended up being good for business in the long run because my website got so much attention and activity that I now populate more quickly in people’s search results and the online end of business continues to be busy,” Jess said.
It wasn’t until July when sweet717 could open its doors again, and while it was nice to be back, more adjustments had to be made. “When I reopened, I built a wall of plexiglass around my counter. I also implemented a no mask, no service policy and roped off the entrance with signs to only allow one person to enter at a time,” Jess said.
Thankfully Jess says customers complied and were respectfully following the policy. With the easing of restrictions, most businesses saw that as a sign of relief, but it also came with its own unique problems. “Now that restrictions are being lifted, I can sense a different level of stress, as people aren’t sure what exactly normal is anymore,” Jess said. “I am fully vaccinated but continue to wear my mask, for the comfort of my guests. Much like the last year and few months, we are playing it by ear.”
Something else Jess plays by ear is her menu offerings. With the summer months coming up, she hopes a new addition will become a big hit. Ice cream is a feel-good dessert for many people, but Jess’s ice cream is almost too good to be true. “The ice cream I will be serving is small-batch, from scratch, and all-natural. I don’t use any preservatives or synthetics in my products, and that carries over into the ice cream,” Jess said. “Most ice cream shops use a powdered base mix that’s loaded with a long list of ingredients most people can’t pronounce and just add milk to it.”
Jess keeps her process nice and simple. “My base is milk, cream, and sugar with varying ingredients depending on the flavor. It’s also being served in eco-friendly fiber dishes with compostable spoons. Definitely, a treat to feel good about!” Jess said.
The ice cream isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last change, to sweet717’s wide variety, but the one thing that will stay consistent is the sweet support of the community. “I am really beginning to feel like my roots have taken hold, and sweet717 is a well-known local establishment. I think having survived 2020 proves this to be true. The majority of my success through the pandemic was due to the overwhelming support of the community,” Jess said. “I think one good thing to come from it all was that it made people more cognizant of the need to support small local businesses, and they really pulled through!”