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The Sweet Life: Michael Speach, a fourth generation candy maker, satisfies Syracuse’s sweet tooth
March 4, 2011 19:28

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As a child, Michael Junior Speach would wake up Easter morning to find a basket full of fruit. No chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps, or jelly beans, but instead apples, bananas and oranges. “Everything is a little different when you’re in the candy business,” says Speach.

Being surrounded by sugar excited his friends, but for Speach, going trick-or-treating on Halloween, for example, meant more of the same. As he grew older, he studied electronic media communications at Onondaga Community College and then went on to get a degree in theatrical design at Ithaca College. He never planned to inherit the 90-year-old Speach Family Candy Shoppe, but in 2007, when his parents considered retiring and closing shop, Speech, decided to take it over. “It’s a great feeling to carry on a tradition, and it means a lot to my family,” he says, now 29.

Relatives used to gather for reunions at the store to help make candy, but the family has since grown too big. His sister occasionally drops in to take orders, but most of the time he runs the business alone, handling manufacturing, packaging, labeling, shipping, ordering, marketing, and accounting. At the mention of bookkeeping, he crinkles his chubby face as though he’s sucking on a sour lemon drop. “But my favorite part of the job is being creative, inventing new flavors and combinations,” he adds. He points to a narrow Chinese staircase in the back of the shop, which winds up to his candy kitchen, where one can only imagine him wearing a white lab coat mixing bubbling test tubes over a laboratory bench smeared with chocolate stains. “It’s like I’m a mad scientist up there,” he smirks.

The shop gets hectic around the holidays, which run from Halloween through Easter, then stays busy through the spring and fall wedding seasons, and Speach is drained of downtime. Business boomed this past Christmas, but that meant he worked overtime, pulling 12 straight all-nighters at the shop. “When you’re running a small business, holidays change,” says Speach as he runs his hair through his frosted tips. He slept through Christmas Day, recovering from the advent anarchy, but dark bags still underline his aqua blue eyes.

Weeks later, an ornamented Christmas tree remains tucked in a corner, although the season has passed. Candy canes and Christmas garlands still dangle from the ceiling, giving the impression of a kindergarten classroom decorated for a rainforest play. He greets a chatty regular by name as she bags salt water taffies and Swedish Fish.

Speach finds running his own business stressful, but rewarding. “It gives me a great feeling to come to work and know that I can be a kid every day.”