The Easter Bunny Has an Easier Time Around Here Thanks to Wisconsin’s Long History of Local Candy Makers

Beerntsen’s Candy

Beerntsen’s Candy, 108 N. 8th Street in Manitowoc, was founded in 1925. (Photo from Beerntsen’s Candy website.)

By Susan Lampert Smith

April 11, 2022

Here are 10 ways to locally source your basket of goodies.

It’s the sweetest morning of the year, certainly the most chocolatey. Marshmallow eggs, creme eggs, chocolate bunnies, coconut stacks—Easter baskets are a glorious find on those holiday mornings. And if you’re helping a certain Mr. Cottontail assemble your family’s basket of treats, you can turn to Wisconsin’s long tradition of family-owned candy makers that date back to the 19th century.

One of the oldest currently in business is Seroogy’s, with locations in the Green Bay suburbs of DePere and Ashwaubenon. The Seroogy family has been in the chocolate business since 1899 and has a number of just-for-Easter specialities, including the cutest lop-eared bunnies you’ll ever see. Seroogy’s will have events with the Easter Bunny on April 15 and 16. And if you don’t live close enough, you can order special Easter meltaway bars, fudge or cream Easter eggs, coconut birds’ nests, Oreo eggs with bunny ears, and entire Easter baskets from the Seroogy’s online store.

Even older than Seeroogy’s, the Oaks Candy Shop in Oshkosh opened its doors in 1890.  They offer a number of Easter specialities including giant chocolate eggs filled with either jelly beans, gummy bunnies, or more chocolates. Oaks has a large variety of filled chocolate eggs, including fudge pecan and caramel pecan, and molded bunnies of every description. You can visit them on Oregon Street or order at Oaks Candy.

Oshkosh is also home to probably the most unique candy store in Wisconsin. The Hughes Chocolate shop opened in 1940 in the basement of the Hughes family home at 1823 Doty Street and it’s still there. During the peak candy seasons of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day, you’ll know you’re at the right house if you see a line of people in the driveway, waiting for their chance to climb down the basement stairs and into the factory.

Hughes is open from the candy apple season in the fall through Mother’s Day, closing for the summer. Hughes’ “Home Maid” Easter items range from a four-pound chocolate egg to bunnies, chocolate baskets, and filled eggs of many types from peanut butter to vanilla-cherry-pecan.

While not strictly an Easter item, Hughes is known for its “oysters” which are cream-filled, chocolate-covered confections that are rolled in crushed peanuts. They come with either chocolate or vanilla filling; and however many you order, it won’t be enough. If you can’t make it to the basement on Doty Street, you can order from them at MailMeChocolates

Hughes Chocolate
In this 2014 photo posted to the Hughes Chocolate shop Facebook page customers can be seen waiting their turn to enter the basement of the Hughes family home where chocolate has been made and sold since 1940

If the Hughes family has the oddest candy store in Wisconsin, the award for most eccentric owner goes to Jim Fetzer of Northern Chocolates in Milwaukee. Fetzer has been called “The Chocolate Nazi” for the performance art that makes up a visit to his shop. Fetzer, a hippie during his days at UW-Whitewater, is now 70 and has swung several revolutions around the political spectrum. Visitors will learn his opinions on Madison liberals (“Annoying!”) people who wear fur (“The worst humans possible!”), and most commercial chocolate (“Complete crap!”).

Fetzer’s own chocolates are sublime, especially the mint meltaways that he perfected after leaving a long career with the former Ambrosia Chocolate Company.

Fetzer is a collector of antique chocolate molds, which shape some of the most beautiful bunnies, bars and eggs you’ll see anywhere. He also collects religious statues and old Santas, so a visit to his Cream City Brick storefront at 2034 N. Martin Luther King Drive is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. But be warned, Fetzer only takes cash, doesn’t allow small children or muddy shoes in the store, and may not serve you if he doesn’t like you. He also may not be open so always call ahead: 414-372-1885.

About 60 blocks west in downtown Wauwatosa, you’ll find a more normal candy store experience at Niemann’s Candies, 7475 Harwood Ave. The Niemann family has been making homemade ice cream and candy since 1919 and offers its candy online. In addition to chocolate bunnies, baskets, and buttercream eggs, Niemann’s also has egg shaped bonbons and that Milwaukee favorite, the whipped creme egg.

Whipped creme eggs are the claim to fame at Buddy Squirrel, founded in 1916 on Milwaukee’s Mitchell Street as the Quality Candy Shoppe. Now headquartered in the South Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis, Buddy Squirrel makes whipped creme eggs in flavors ranging from raspberry and mint to peanut butter. You can order online or visit their factory store at 1801 East Bolivar Ave. in St. Francis.

Another Wisconsin candy store that recently celebrated a centennial is The Sweet Shop, located at 1113 Caledonia St. in La Crosse. It does have some hand-dipped chocolate Easter candies, but is most known for its ice cream sundaes and “fairy food,” a hard sponge candy covered in chocolate. The Sweet Shop was founded in 1921 and is still family-owned. 

Beerntsen’s Candy, 108 N. 8th Street in Manitowoc, was founded in 1925. In addition to marshmallow eggs and chocolate lambs and bunnies, it uses antique molds to create more religious items, such as a chocolate cross and chocolate bars embossed with an image of the Last Supper. You can visit their old time store in Manitowoc or order online.

A relative newcomer to Wisconsin’s chocolate universe, Sjolind’s Chocolates in Mount Horeb proves that Norwegians also know a thing or two about bean-to-bar chocolate. The Sjolind’s factory on Mount Horeb’s east side has been closed to customers since the pandemic, but the chocolates are available at their coffee house at 219 E. Main Street in Mount Horeb. For Easter they have cute chocolate roosters and bunnies, cream-filled eggs, homemade marshmallows in sophisticated flavors such as coffee, and a chocolate hen on a nest of jelly beans.

The Sjolinds Chocolates factory has been closed to customers since the pandemic but the chocolates are available at their coffee house at 219 E Main Street in Mount Horeb Photo from the Sjolinds website

And speaking of jelly beans, we’re sad to report that the Jelly Belly factory in Pleasant Prairie closed during the pandemic. Visits to the store on Jelly Belly Lane and “Jelly Belly Express” tram tours of the warehouse are a fond memory for a generation of Wisconsin kids. The tour included art made from jelly beans, including a portrait in beans of President Ronald Reagan, who made the candies famous.

Alas, in July 2020, Jelly Belly shuttered the plant, moving production to Chicago. We hope they took the “BeanBoozled” beans in flavors of barf, stinky socks, and rotten eggs with them when they left.

But we won’t end our Easter basket story on a sour note. Or rather, we will, because you can still buy made-in-Wisconsin jelly beans. Impact Confections, which has a plant in Janesville, still makes the iconic candy of the 1990s – super sour Warheads. And the Warheads line includes jelly beans, which have a sour shell and a “sweet and fruity” interior.

Impact also bought out the former Melster Candy Company, which operated in Cambridge from 1919 (a big year for Wisconsin candy startups) until 2010. Melster’s line includes those orange circus peanuts and marshmallow-filled Easter bunnies.

Have a sweet Wisconsin Easter.


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