Although a national franchise, the Kilwins West Chester story is truly a sweet, local treasure. Owners, Sarah & Glenn Simpson, actually met over eleven years ago back in 2011 inside of a Kilwins. They soon found out their love for chocolate was only superseded by their love for each other. The beautiful couple married a few short years later, opened two Kilwins locations of their own, and eventually settled in West Chester a little over four years ago. From the start, Sarah and Glenn dreamed of opening a third location in their beloved town, and much to their delight–and our town’s–that dream came true in 2021. We recently caught up with Sarah Simpson to talk about what makes Kilwins so special. So without further ado, Zukin Realty proudly presents a Commercial Business Spotlight with Kilwins West Chester, a truly welcome edition to West Chester, PA.
Kilwins West Chester – Old-Fashioned Confectionery, Chocolates, & Ice Cream
Note: All Images Property of Kilwins in West Chester PA
Tell us a little about you and your husband’s story. I read that you both met at Kilwins.
Yeah, he (Glenn) took a summer job helping out (circa 2011), and I taught him how to make caramel and he never ended up leaving. He ended up enjoying Kilwins more than anyone thought. So that was unexpected. Yeah, it was at a store in Delaware.
I read that you opened your first Kilwins franchise location in King of Prussia in August 2018. What made you decide to open a location in West Chester?
Because we live in West Chester! We had always thought about it, but we chose to live in West Chester even when we opened our King of Prussia store, thinking that maybe someday…we would be still doing it when our kids were a little bit older. But our location (located where the old Senator Dinniman office stood for over a decade directly next door to Mercato) became available. We started looking at other places, but once we saw that it was open – this one just felt so right. And we love it! It’s a little magic, and we love it. (with the smell, the lighting, the location on the corner, it does have a Disney World Bakery feel to it). We certainly did have some help from the Zukin Team, who really wanted us to come here. She started pushing for Zukin to help us to hit the ground running. And it was perfect timing too.
Kilwins original candy making began in 1947 by Don Kilwin. How do you train your candy makers today to ensure the same quality?
So it really is amazing because we are a part of a franchise that has such values in keeping it nostalgic and the original recipes the old fashioned way. And because I have a culinary background and it helps a little bit easier to teach. So it’s something I really enjoy doing. (And again), we follow the same recipes and because we now have been doing this for so long it becomes fun to teach someone this new hobby. It becomes a new skill and watching people blossom on how to make fudge, it’s just really enjoyable to watch. And usually our team gets nervous at first, because it can be a little bit hard making candy, but at the end of it, they are rock stars.
What is your number one seller at Kilwins?
Currently it’s fudge. Not all Kilwins are the same, but our stores focus on ‘in-store made products’. Where most franchises might shy away, but that’s really our strong suit. We enjoy cooking in front of everyone. We focus the business on the ‘made in-store’ aspect. And work everything from there. We even designed this store differently than any other Kilwins incorporating so many more ‘made in-store’ items than most. Same as our King of Prussia store, since this is kind of what we do. And we started that in DE too, so we really focus on what we can make in front of the customer. And engaging, and sampling and all that. So fudge is the big thing right now. Along with our caramel, caramel apples are a huge hit and we can’t keep up with the demand in West Chester. Which is great, but it’s a big undertaking to make this amount, but it’s nice to see the cases full after a holiday because usually the holidays so far have been wiping us out.
What is your personal favorite menu item?
One of my favorites is the caramel covered, chocolate dipped Oreos and it has a little bit of sea salt on it. So we get a real Oreo cookie and dip in our homemade caramel and then into our own chocolate and then sprinkle sea salt on it. And it’s just an amazing treat! There is a lot in there, and it’s really popular. And we have marshmallows we dip in caramel that I really like. And most people love the chocolate covered pretzels. And I’m a big chocolate covered graham cracker fan. I feel like those are a good balance. And honestly, my husband will tell you that I eat so much of it!
Is there any ‘hidden treasures’ in the menu?
Well, everything has to be an approved recipe with the franchise. But one thing we do at our store, which is kind of special for me personally, is my grandmother grew up with her best friend eating a fudge called ‘penuche’. And most people don’t know what that is and if they do, they don’t see it anywhere. It’s not really heard of. She (my grandmother) grew up having penuche fudge, and in 2011 she and her friend asked if we had heard of a penuche recipe, so I looked it up and there was a Kilwins recipe! So we started only making penuche fudge instead of vanilla fudge and it’s been a huge hit now since 2011. It’s like a vanilla brown sugar fudge, which makes it kind of different and interesting as far as the plain ol’ vanilla. It has the notes of brown sugar which balances out the sweetness. So that one is special to me because of my grandmother and her best friend’s favorite, and everytime I would see them I would always bring them a slice, and now in our stores we always have penuche fudge. Now, we find it being our 3rd or 4th top sellers! And it’s pretty special that we are able to do that. And most Kilwins owners don’t really know what it is, because they don’t have a grandma telling them penuche is worth trying. So we tried it out and we have not stopped and now we don’t make regular vanilla fudge because this one is so much more popular! I am not a huge vanilla fudge person, but the people who come in for vanilla (fudge) are always taken back by how much more enjoyable and better it is than regular vanilla because of the brown sugar. So that is something different that we offer in our stores.
And because there are about 150 stores, there are a lot more recipes depending on regionally (your location). Like there are pralines down south, and obviously we don’t focus on that here. And we are in a peanut region, so our stores have a lot more peanut and peanut butter offerings than stores down south. Up here in Pennsylvania we like our peanut butter. So we try to focus on peanut brittle and cashew brittle and things like that.
How do you choose your ice cream flavors?
So our flavors are pretty standard. What we do offer in our store is pretty much the top sellers. This store is half the size of our King of Prussia store. So we have more flavors in that location. This one because we are high volume here, we are focused more on our ‘made in-store’ items and keeping up on those. We actually don’t change out (our flavors) very often. We will usually change out one flavor seasonally. But right now it’s just our core products. The Kilwins tried and true top sellers. We do let our own kids each pick a flavor to keep in the case, so right now our 5 year old really wants Blue Moon and our daughter loves the Superman, which is the rainbow. So we have both of those right now. We tried to keep them involved as much as we can. And as fun as we can, because you know they are 5 and 7 right now and they love to help. Help us do inventory and pick out the ice creams (being a part of the family business).
Do you have any special things to check out for Easter this year?
We do! We have Easter candy. So far what we have learned is that our holiday candy sells quickly. So we have (sometimes) sold out before the actual holiday, which is good, we can’t necessarily keep up. So coming (in) early is the best advice there. We have right now a 22 lb. chocolate Easter Bunny on display. He’s about 4 ft. tall in a acrylic case in the middle of the store. And we do all sorts of chocolate dipped things for Easter. You know we have the bunnies, we have the eggs. Of course anything in our cases, we change the sprinkle colors. We make our own variety boxes.
When we planned on building this store, we planned on growing into it. So we have things we are planning on in the next few years that we will get to. Because we are so hands on and there is so much involved in our store, I usually like to go a little bit slow. So our King of Prussia store has our full variety of platters. At some point we will have that over here too. We actually built this space downstairs to allow us to have room to do that.
(Also if you want to guarantee to have something from Kilwins), call in an order or stop into the store. That is the best way (to get something for Easter). Because we have so many different things, we are often sold out of our top seller and because we only have one kitchen. Our caramel takes about 6-9 hours to make, so that’s a whole day to get anything else done. So pre-ordering and giving a heads up to set things aside is pretty much how we do it. We don’t have online ordering, we don’t have any of those modern conveniences. So we have to kick it old school and we will take your order. And it’s easier to manage than having too many orders that we can’t fulfill.
Thursday, June 16th is the National Day of Fudge. Do you have any special way of celebrating?
So on that day our fudge will be buying one slice of fudge and get one free. Instead of our regular discount of buying two get the third free. With that said, it will be while supplies last.
We will also have other specials during the summer with ice cream and more fudge specials in the fall.
What excites you about the future of West Chester in the next 5 to 10 years?
So far West Chester has welcomed us with open arms. This is why I love West Chester. This is our third (location) now and we have never had this kind of welcoming and community support. It makes all the hard work in building the business during the pandemic so worth it. It’s amazing!
We are (also) just so excited to have our kids be a part of this more with us (since they live in West Chester). And feeling the sense of community with us. And doing this now for so many years and having this one being so different. We are just so excited to have our kids be a part of our business here in West Chester. And they help us.
And growing the community ties here and helping out where we can in the community is what really excites me so much. And hopefully after the business is established a little bit more I will have more free time to do that. Just being a part of our own community is a big drive here in West Chester. We love West Chester! We fell in love with it when we drove by looking at our house and have loved it ever since. I feel like we are the luckiest people. We are just happy to be a part of West Chester. It’s just amazing! We have lived all over and this is by far the best little spot we found.
Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
We are very much hiring and that’s a focus for us right now. We do tend to hire about 14/15 (years of age), but I do have my roster full on 14/15 year olds right now. So I’m looking for someone over 16 is who I am currently looking for. I am also looking for some managers and some full time positions as well. We are always hiring.