Chris Kadow-Dougherty is the owner and chief candy maker at Whimsical Candy in Chicago. From an early age, Chris felt an affinity for sweets. At 3 years old, she packed a little pink suitcase and announced she was running away to the candy store. Her sweet and innocent proclamation would develop into a career as a confectionery artisan.
Before deciding to pursue candy, Chris worked as a fundraiser in the nonprofit sector but while rewarding, something was missing. She needed to stretch her creativity. Informed by a lifetime of home baking and candy making, Chris decided to make her childhood dream of living at the candy store a reality. She enrolled in Chicago’s acclaimed French Pastry School and learned the art of confectionery from the world's best pastry chefs. Soon she developed her own signature product, the swirly nougat and caramel candy called the “La-Dee-Dah” and spent a year developing her brand, packaging, and shop before launching a successful business.
Chris’s courage to take a leap of faith and invest in herself is inspiring. Her entrepreneurial streak mixed with childhood wonder is a balance we all strive to achieve in our own lives. Learn more about her journey below and get a taste of the sweet tips she has to offer.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Milwaukee area but grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I’m a Midwesterner. No doubt about it.
What do you do for a living?
I am a candymaker. I own Whimsical Candy, a small batch candy company. I used to be a fundraiser in the nonprofit sector, but made the leap to “do what I love” about 15 years ago. It has been a delicious but challenging road.
What lessons has your work life taught you?
The most important lesson I have learned in running a small business is don’t freak out. When I remember to follow that rule, everything else falls into place. Granted, sometimes there have been costly mistakes, or very long hours, or wasted ingredients, but for the most part I have been able to put my head down and plow through. I have been very lucky to have great employees who are reliable and utterly competent, and tons of entrepreneur friends and colleagues who have been very generous with useful advice. Then there’s my husband, who is always there to say, “Everything always works out,” whenever it seems like it won’t.
Can you tell me about someone who has had a big influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
So many people have influenced me. I will focus on one person, an older friend who passed away a few years ago. When we met she was in her late 70s and I was just 30. She was a world traveler, art collector, great cook and intellectual. She had a wonderful sense of style. We became very close friends. She was both teacher and cheerleader and her encouragement helped me become more confident. She was very special. As I become older, I look at clothes differently and find myself emulating her simple but elegant style.
What kind of student were you?
I am ruled by anxiety, I was good at memorizing and reading, so I was a great student. Now, the thought of returning to school makes me shudder.
Can you tell me about a person who has been kindest to you in your life?
I’ve been lucky. I feel like I have been treated primarily with kindness throughout my life. It might have made me a little naïve. I once was having a bad day and said to a good friend in frustration, “You know how when life is just moving along, things are going well, and then something suddenly happens and it all turns to shit?” She looked at me and said, “Things just go along well for you?” It took me aback.
What do you feel most grateful for in your life?
Freedom. I am grateful to have the freedom to have my own business, manage my own schedule, make my own choices and not have anyone too dependent on me.
Can you tell me about one of your happiest memories?
While I was in pastry school, which I attended in my late thirties, I had a part-time job as a pastry cook at a French bistro. I invited my parents to come for dinner. My dad was a big foodie and they had traveled to Paris many times. I remember coming out to their table in my chef’s whites. My dad was visibly proud of me. He was a great dad, and it wasn’t so much that he was proud, it was that he was proud of that specifically. I think he was impressed that I was able to turn my life upside down and follow my dream, and there I was standing in front of him, literally a new person. This goes back to the freedom thing – my parents started a family young and neither ever had that level of freedom.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
Be polite. Work out. Go for quality not quantity in just about everything – friends, clothes and chocolate are at the top.