The Profit

The Profit’s sweet tooth for small business helped this ‘interactive candy store’ expand

Marcus Lemonis took this candy shop from local oddity to budding empire
Marcus Lemonis took this candy shop from local oddity to budding empire

When Sweet Pete's Candy first came to The Profit's attention in 2013, it was a brilliant business bogged down by a checked-out investor and hidden in a residential neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida.

For all of founders Pete and Allison Behringer's best efforts, the candy shop just couldn't grow beyond the unnecessary red tape Dane Baird, its 50 percent owner and landlord, had built around it. But a close reading of the original legal agreement by new partner Marcus Lemonis revealed a way forward that would unshackle the business from Dane's constraints: Marcus would systematically dilute his shares until they were meaningless.

And that he did, eventually parting ways with Dane, rebranding the business in Pete's image, and moving the storefront to a new location with higher visibility and better foot traffic.

Now, four years later, Sweet Pete's operation has ballooned. With new locations planned for Atlanta, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a robust online shopping presence, the company's employee count has expanded beyond the initial close-knit circle of seven to over a hundred. The business has also acquired Key West Key Lime Pie Company and is currently partnering with Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour -- two of Marcus' small business investments from The Profit.

"I've gotten a lot out of the relationship," says Allison of the decision to partner with Marcus and leverage his portfolio. "Certainly, he's pushed us to get out of our comfort zone ... to be better at things. He's a great sounding board. And he actually enjoys those phone calls where you text him and say, 'Hey, do you have a minute? I wanna talk to you about an idea.'"

As for the Pete of Sweet Pete's, well, he's managed to get out of the kitchen, leaving the day-to-day fulfillment of orders to others, and into an R&D lab of sorts where he can devise new recipes. He's also relented on the sweets shop's commitment to making everything by hand. Thanks to Marcus, now much of the candy preparation process has been automated with the addition of time-saving devices like a caramel cutter and wrapper, a batch roller and two new cookers.

"During the show, when it originally aired, we had a massive order for lollipops we just couldn't fill as quickly as we needed to," says Pete. "... But now, if we had an order like that, we could crank it out in an hour or so. So it's just really made our lives more effective in the kitchen."

Though it's clearly evolved for the better since Marcus took the reins, Sweet Pete's retains much of the DNA that set the small candy shop apart from its competitors. But the business has had to adapt to a competitive marketplace and now offers plush toys -- a big seller, much to Allison and Pete's chagrin -- in addition to its confectionary delights. The company also still offers its popular field trips and science classes disguised as candy-making workshops for kids -- an endeavour Pete is keen to expand.

"I'd like to see more of these type of stores in different cities … sort of the interactive candy store," he says. "A candy store that brings people into the process. I think that's what makes us unique -- that people can come in here and they learn something about candy."