Grahams sweeten Newnan at Let Them Eat Toffee
by Bradley Hartsell
Relocating is intimidating, and one would understand the apprehension involved with making a splash in a new place.
But the Grahams, Kerry and Phyllis, didn't feel that way when they came from Tallahassee looking to open a toffee shop. They dove in headfirst, moving to Newnan in May 2009 and opening Let Them Eat Toffee a month later, not to mention competing in the spring of 2009's Taste of Newnan and joining various town committees.
The Grahams left Tallahassee searching for a place for Kerry's elderly parents and a place to open a shop. They looked in North Georgia and North Carolina - and other 'more touristy areas,' according to Kerry - but couldn't find a place that suited his parents.
When they accidentally exited onto Bullsboro on the way to Serenbe, they happened upon Wesley Woods, a fitting home for his parents, and a spot in downtown Newnan that would become their toffee and confection shop.
'We stumbled onto this shop that just looked like a chocolate shop to us,' Kerry says. 'It all just sort of fell into place after things just kept happening to facilitate the move.'
'Things start happening and you don't necessarily have control over it. [Life] is just leading you somewhere and you just go with the flow.'
In the four years since opening, LTET has built a loyal following in the community. On this particular morning, a woman named Theresa pokes her head in the door before the shop even opens just to say hi to Kerry and Phyllis. She delightfully shrieks when Phyllis tells her Kerry has been drinking 'that cornsilk tea.' It's an illuminating look into what being a local shop in downtown Newnan is all about.
For their part, the Grahams have embraced local touchstones. They sell 'Fig Newnans,' 'Courthouse Squares' and 'Horse Pucky,' named after the painted horses on the square. When they talk about downtown, it's not all about the bottom line or how they can increase their foot traffic. They have a genuine interest in seeing the downtown as a whole thrive and become more self-sufficient. They envision a market where people can shop downtown for groceries. They were glad to see the two-hour parking rule abolished because of its adverse musical chairs-like effect on patrons and their cars. One gets the sense the Grahams primary focus is on hand making great toffee, first and foremost, but the greater good of downtown Newnan is an admirable second.
'I think things do kind of ebb and flow,' says Phyllis of not only the local economy, but the global one. 'You can't help think globally because we've got the world at our fingertips, but what really makes a difference in community is relationships. When somebody walks in the door, they really want to know how you're doing.'
'That's the best part of this business, for us, is the people we meet,' interjects Kerry. 'It's incredible how, from the moment we got here, people are always interested in how we got here and why we came here. It's less of them talking about themselves and more wanting to know about us.'
Let Them Eat Toffee has fashioned itself into a sweets and gift shop, with cozy decor and shirts, cards and nick-nacks on the wall. Kerry is the toffee artist, making almost everything the shop sells himself, like their signature Georgia pecan toffee, which was a finalist for the Flavor of Georgia contest in 2010.
'People ask 'well, do you make it yourself?' and we can say 'yes,'' barring a few items, like the King of Pops, an all-natural fruit pop LTHT partnered with.
Let Them Eat Toffee focuses on all-natural ingredients, something Phyllis especially takes pride in as she's on the New Leaf Community Garden, a group promoting local nutrition and sustainability through gardening. There's a well-roundedness to the Grahams that gives off the feeling of security and selfawareness, admirable traits with the tough realities of small business.
It's striking how in just a short amount of time, the Grahams manage to convey the right mixture of pride, community, awareness and gratitude. It's a reassuring blend that doesn't happen by accident. It's a blend that's very fitting for a duo who understand the delicacy of making great toffee and forging lasting relationships.