Jennifer Bednez was feeling down and out while going through a period of transition in her professional life.
“I got let go after 14 years,” Bednez said. “It was a bad time. I was depressed, and I didn’t know where my future was heading.”Her husband, Dave, knew Carol Wells, the owner of Sweet Surprises in West Reading, and the three met for dinner.
That get-together led Bednez down a path that would take her away from her previous work in operations in the business equipment industry to a sweeter domain.”She offered to have me come in and do some part-time work to get out of the house,” Bednez said.Soon, Wells became her mentor, teaching her the ropes of operating a candy business. They traveled to New York and Philadelphia for the gift shows.”She took me on buying trips, and that sealed the deal for me,” Bednez said. “Because of me having a business background, that part of it was always intriguing to me. It was much more interesting than toner and copies.”When Wells retired in 2013, Bednez became the owner of Sweet Surprises.”I became interested in what it was like to own a business,” Bednez said. “When I took it over and bought it, the challenge of it was exciting and new.”Describing herself as someone who gets bored after she figures things out, the excitement of having her own business soon faded.”I didn’t create Sweet Surprises, so there was no personal attachment for me,” she said. “When you have a lot of passion, you have have energy and excitement, and I didn’t.”
Learning about history
While she was yearning for an emotional attachment, she knew nothing about the history of the location. It was one of Zipf’s Candies stores from 1973 until 1991. That changed one day in the shop when she waited on some customers a year after she bought the store.
“The thing that brought excitement to me was meeting Lynn Zipf Champagne,” she said “She and her husband were in the store, and I had the Zipf’s Cashew Patties in the case. She didn’t introduce herself to me, but he alluded to who she was.”Bednez said she was star struck at meeting a Zipf family member in Lynn, part of the fourth generation in the business.”People come in here and their eyes would light up, and they would go into that happy place remembering being here with their mother or grandparent or with little kids,” Bednez said. “It was nice to see that much joy just from a piece of candy, and then the history from the candy counter.”I told them you have no idea how many stories I hear about your family’s business, how happy people are to talk about what Zipf’s meant to them.”After meeting Lynn, Bednez set out to learn more about what was behind the original counter and dishes that were there from when Zipf’s was still in business.”The customers started getting excited about what I knew about Zipf’s,” she said. “For them it was a great memory.”Bednez experienced a turning point that gave her a renewed sense of excitement toward her business.”That was the beginning of my sense of pride,” she said. “That is when I felt like I had a piece of history.”
Meeting another family member
As her friendship began to develop with Lynn, she was eventually introduced to Lynn’s brother, Leo “Lee” Zipf III, who made the Zipf’s candy for 20 years. Lee began making candy at the family’s factory at 929 Penn St. at the age of 18.
“My great-grandparents came to this country from Germany in the 1890s, and in 1905 they opened up the 929 Penn St. store,” Lee said. “At the height, we had seven retail stores in the Reading area, and the store at the VF Outlet, and there were 600 stores we sold to in the Philadelphia area and the Jersey Coast.”When Bednez contacted Lee, he was excited about the possibility of collaborating with her.”It was exciting because I still have all of the old recipes,” he said. “It would be bringing back my family tradition in bringing back some of the original recipes that we made and people enjoyed for years and years.”Lee and Bednez became Facebook friends, and it wasn’t long before they started talking about candy and bringing some of the customers’ favorites back. In addition to sharing their prized recipes, many of which were passed down from his great-grandfather, he also has shown her how to actually make them.”I’m teaching her the process to give her the knowledge of how to do it, and she is really getting into it,” he said.Sweet Surprises carries Zipf’s Chocolate Whip, Pecan Nut Ball and Almond Nut Ball, in addition to the Cashew Patties.”These are family recipes that have been in their family for a hundred years,” Bednez said. “It’s going to be the original Zipf’s Candy by Sweet Surprises.”
They also decided to bring back a favorite for Easter called a Fluff Egg.
“We are bringing back three flavors that were the best sellers,” Bednez said, “We are going to do the plain, peanut butter and the cherry. They haven’t sold Fluff Eggs in over 20 years, and they used to do 50,000 eggs a year.”Ever since she bought the store, people have been asking about Fluff Eggs. When she and Zipf did a sample run, that gave her the opportunity to try one.”It’s nothing like I’ve ever had before,” she said. “I get it. Once I ate one of those, I see why those people have not let this die.”Zipf, who pursued another line of work after his parents retired and is now a structural steel estimator, described what sets a Fluff Egg apart from other chocolate eggs.”When you bite into it, the fluff is smooth and creamy and chocolatey, and when you bite into the marshmallow it’s real soft and gooey,” he said. “There is a creamy, milk chocolate coating around the marshmallow center, and then it is coated in dark chocolate on top of that.”The Fluff Eggs will be available by special order for pick up in time for the Easter, which is April 16.”I already have 50 ordered,” Bednez said of the 4-ounce eggs.Zipf said he has enjoyed the opportunity to work around candy again.”She is so excited, and it really makes me feel good that she is as excited as she is,” he said. “I feel like she is part of the family because she really is excited about it and has a really good, warm feeling about getting it going again – to bring the pieces back again.”It’s exciting bringing those back, and Jen is really excited to offer them, so we’ll see what happens.”In addition to the recipes he has shared with her, Bednez also has a physical piece of history from their Penn Street location.”In his Ninth Street (and Penn) location he had a black, wrought iron door, and in it was the word Zipf’s, and he gave that to me,” Bednez said.She plans to display it in the store.Contact Courtney H. Diener-Stokes: email@example.com.
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | Zipf’s Chocolate Whips in dark and milk chocolate.
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | Zipf’s Pecan Nut Balls at Sweet Surprises.
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | Zipf’s Cashew Patties.
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | A poster showing a variety of candies at Sweet Surprises in West Reading.
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | The Zipf’s Regal Assortment Box at Sweet Surprises, 544 Penn Avenue in West Reading. Fluff Eggs Photo by Harold Hoch 2/3/17
Reading Eagle: Harold Hoch | A poster shows Zipf’s Fluff Eggs, which are making their return at Sweet Surprises for Easter this year.