John Lillegren, owner and founder of Amy’s Gourmet Apples, grew up working in his aunt’s candy store in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. As an adult, John considers himself a “foodie” with an entrepreneurial spirit. So when he found a location in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, he knew what kind of business he was going to open: a candy shop.
This would not be just any candy shop. Amy’s Candy Kitchen, as it’s known by Cedarburg locals, started in 1996 with Belgian chocolates and artisan-made gourmet caramel apples that were hand-dipped in old world copper kettles. Less than ten years later, it would expand with the launch of Amy’s Gourmet Apples, the online contingent of the store that specializes in specialty caramel apples. While they look and operate like two different parts, the brick and mortar store and the online store, they are a single entity on the day-to-day. On WisconsinMade Artisan Collective, they are listed as Amy’s Gourmet Apples.
“The most common thing I hear from our corporate clients is how much of an impression our apples make,” says Paula Heupel, Vice President of Sales with Amy’s Gourmet Apples. “Our caramel apples and gift baskets are truly a unique and memorable gift.”
That novelty and the creativity it inspires is what drew John to specializing in gourmet caramel apples. Where else can you find a caramel apple made with Belgian dark chocolate and topped with sea salt? That’s Paula’s favorite apple, by the way.
Paula also admits to craving the simpler flavors, such as the peanut-covered caramel apple. “You can’t beat the simplicity,” she says. The Classic Peanut Caramel Apple with its sweet and salty combination brings you back to the basics.
Paula started working at Amy’s around 2008 as a seasonal employee during the holidays, when the store is at its busiest. But then something happened: she fell in love with Amy’s Gourmet Apples. She started to work more often and her role continued to grow. Today, she’s the Vice President of Sales, where she gets to stretch her creativity.
“I love working corporate sales and with our corporate clients,” Paula says. “I also love being involved with the marketing of our business. Mostly, I like the opportunity to do many different things, along with the creativity that is required to do what I do. That is actually my favorite part of my job.”
The same artisanal spirit that inspired Paula to start working at Amy’s Gourmet Apples is the same spirit that drew WisconsinMade Artisan Collective. WisconsinMade aims to promote unique, artisan creations that are made in Wisconsin.
Not that Amy’s Gourmet Apples needed a lot of help in promotion. There’s an almost gravitational pull around Amy’s Gourmet Apples that attracted the attention of national media outlets like Martha Stewart, the Food Network, the Wall Street Journal, Midwest Living, and other popular publications. While a lot can be said for the quality and novelty of Amy’s gourmet caramel apples, Paula takes a more humble approach to all the attention.
“I really have to give the Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce and the Cedarburg Festivals Committee credit,” Paula says. “They are very good at promoting local businesses and getting the word out about Cedarburg as a destination.”
Amy’s Gourmet Apples makes an effort to give back to the community through charitable donations. But perhaps the source of the gravitational pull is the passion of Amy’s employees.
“We, at Amy’s, are passionate about the quality and presentation of our products, that’s the Amy’s difference. It is easy to work for a company and to sell a product when you believe in it. We like to live by our motto. As our tag line says, ‘Passion . . . It’s in our core.'”