With a new retail location on Walton Avenue, Ruth Hunt Candies readies for Valentine’s Day
"We buy 400 cases of strawberries, almost a semi-truck full. We have a large cooler that we fill from floor to ceiling, plus a couple of side coolers. Every single square inch is filled with strawberries, and we do nothing but dip strawberries for three days – all day long, for three days.”
This is how Ruth Hunt Candies owner Larry Kezele and the folks at Ruth Hunt Candies jump into the Valentine’s Day rush: dipping 22,000 strawberries into chocolate for their famous Long Stem Strawberries.
“It’s harder, in some ways, than Christmas. Christmas, you know, people show up and you’re busy from Thanksgiving on. Some people give early gifts; some people give late gifts. You build up to the really busy days before Christmas. Still, the busiest day of the year is always right on Valentine’s Day. That’s when everybody gets the gift,” Kezele continued.
Ruth Hunt Candies is a long-established name in Lexington, as well as in Mt. Sterling where their factory is located. You can tour the factory and see the large copper kettles and marble slabs that Ruth Hunt herself used in her business that started 92 years ago this year.
And now, Kezele has brought Ruth Hunt Candies back to downtown Lexington with a new store on Walton Avenue.
“Years and years ago, Ruth Hunt herself had a store on the corner of Main and Limestone. Some time later, we had a store in Chevy Chase. It was a very small space there that did quite well, but the building owners decided to tear that whole building down and rebuild. I always wanted to get back to downtown Lexington, but downtown wasn’t nearly as resurgent as it is now,” Kezele said. “We went to Woodhill for 10 years, but I am a firm believer in owning our own building. When the sign went up for this building I called immediately. We got it in November. We flat-out ran to get things going in time for Christmas, which is our absolute make-or-break season.”
Getting a Ruth Hunt store in on Walton Avenue is like a plan come full circle for Kezele, who has wanted to own a building in downtown Lexington for a long time.
“When we moved in at Woodhill, this building was for sale and I looked at it. At the time it was just out of our reach. Sonitrol bought the building and renovated it. Now, 10 years later, it has all new electric, all new plumbing, a new roof. There is plenty of parking. It worked out really well. And we are so excited to be back in downtown Lexington and involved in the things going on downtown,” he said.
While the Walton Avenue store has its share of other gift items that have proven to be very popular over the years – Kentucky cookbooks and collectibles, plush toys, and even a postal mailing counter for sending gifts and candy – 85 to 90 percent of the Ruth Hunt business is still candy. From those famous chocolate-dipped strawberries and filled heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s Day to Woodford Reserve bourbon balls, the Ruth Hunt crew does what they know best.
Since this is a candy store, there was one question Larry Kezele would be very qualified to answer: What is “a kid in a candy store” really like?
“Oh, we’ve had whole shelves knocked over,” he laughed. “But usually we have parents and grandparents who bring in the most well-behaved children. We had one little girl who would come in regularly with her grandmother with her $2 for the week. She is so thoughtful, taking her time until she finds her thing for the week. It is her bonding with her grandmother. And she’ll remember that for the rest of her life.”
Kezele has amassed a collection of letters and emails from people who had a family tradition of stopping by one of the Ruth Hunt locations with a parent or grandparent and are now passing that along to their own children. There are touching stories of some very fond memories that people have of visits to the store or of getting one of Ruth Hunt’s famous Blue Monday candy bars at a drugstore.
“One fellow wrote us who used to come from Louisville to Lexington to visit his grandmother on the weekends. She would take him to McAdams & Morford downtown and they would have an olive nut sandwich and a Blue Monday,” Kezele said. “As she got older, she ended up in a nursing home. He would come to visit her, stopping by McAdams & Morford to pick up Blue Mondays, which just delighted her. Eventually his grandmother passed away. And on his way to the funeral he stopped by and bought every Blue Monday they had and put it in the coffin with her. This was 40 or 50 years ago, and that man is still a customer today.”
Kezele and store manager Rwonda Crutcher are bracing for Valentine’s Day now. Over 20 thousand strawberries are destined for the Ruth Hunt factory in the near future, and their job is cut out for them.
The new Ruth Hunt Candies location at 213 Walton Ave. is open 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon. – Sat. (1 – 5 p.m. Sun.).