With sweet, enticing delights, The Caramel House has a story that continues to unfold. Its once-upon-a-time began in late 2010 when owner Janet Shulman needed a flexible career that would allow her to care for her children, as well as her parents, who were both diagnosed with cancer. “I wanted to balance my family life with work, and I thought, If I started a company, I could set my own schedule,” she recalls. But caramel wasn’t the first thing that popped into her mind. “I started a baking company using the kitchen at The Woman’s Exchange. The beauty of it was, with its retail shop, I could sell to the public and also sell wholesale to restaurants. It was a good fit because it lowered my risk with starting a new business.”
One item that Shulman made exceptionally well was her caramel brownie. “I make everything from scratch, and the ladies at The Woman’s Exchange loved those caramel brownies,” she remembers. “They even told me that they once had a woman from another state make and send them her caramel candy. They asked me if I could make caramel, and I didn’t blink—saying, Sure, I’ll make you caramel candy!” Not really knowing much about it, Shulman ran home to begin her research, not knowing where this new path would lead her.
“My grandmother, who lived in Salina, Kan., made caramels when I was a little girl, so I found her hand-written recipe and tried it out,” she says. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work, because she mainly made it from memory.” Not giving up, Shulman turned to her cooking bible: The Joy of Cooking. “Over and over again, it stated that if you have heat and humidity, you’re pretty much sunk when it comes to making caramel.” Fully aware of where she lived, she made the recipe anyway, and much to her dismay, she didn’t like it. Next, she began reading everything she could about the science of making candy—and not just about caramel, but hard candies and chewy ones, butterscotch, taffies and toffee, she explains. “I then began to experiment, and what I ended up doing was creating a different way to cook caramel that isn’t affected by heat and humidity. I not only developed my own method, but I came up with a caramel that melts in your mouth and doesn’t stick to dental work.”
Shulman is very proud of the fact that her caramel is made without stabilizers, preservatives “or anything that would keep it in a cube shape.” She’s also worked very hard to incorporate local ingredients. “Taste is what matters, and that’s how I came up with my first flavor, Vanilla, which is made with Lochhead vanilla from right here in St. Louis. It’s my No. 1-selling flavor.” Other flavors with local ingredients include Bacon (from Missouri), Beer & Chip (Schlafly Beer and The Billy Goat Chip Company), Beer & Pretzel (with Gus’ Pretzels) and Cookie & Caramel (Dad’s Cookie Company).
Since her focus changed from baked goods to caramel in 2011, Shulman’s small business, which now functions out of a commercial kitchen in Clayton, continues to grow through what she calls a ‘layering’ of her company. “We have the wrapped candy available through different retail outlets and our website,” she notes. “But we also have our wholesale business—we do corporate gifts, catering and our wrapped caramel is available at the Fox Theatre concession stands, as well as in its restaurant, where our Almond Caramel is served over warm Brie.” There’s cooking with The Caramel House, too. “Our uncut caramel is available in bulk, and that’s one of the things we’re working on—offering it in containers that can be stored in the freezer, because the shelf-life of our caramel is three months.” Here’s a tip: With Warm Bacon Caramel, add a little cream to thin and drizzle over anything—for instance, chocolate brownies. Enjoy!