ELLISON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Tom “Uncle Tom” Collis passed away in 1990. His legacy lives on in Door County through his recipes.
“Uncle Tom was known for his peanut brittle, he was known for his fudge, and he was known for his pancake mix,” Carol Kostka, a clerk at Uncle Tom’s Candy Store told Local 5.
All of those goodies are available at Uncle Tom’s Candy Store, located inside the old Newport Schoolhouse in Ellison Bay.
The school closed in the 1950s. Uncle Tom purchased the building and opened his candy shop in 1971. “It’s basically never been closed,” Kostka said.
That feat is in large part thanks to Heather Laughlin.
After Uncle Tom’s death, Aunt Margie, one of his employees, took the reigns for a few years.
In 1997, Laughlin heard that Aunt Margie was ready to sell. “I actually worked at Al Johnson’s as a waitress,” Laughlin recalled. “We thought it would be a great place, to live here, and I could run the store downstairs.”
Laughlin says she and her husband had been married a few years at that point. She had a two-year-old and another on the way.
The young family moved into the old schoolhouse, and Laughlin got to work learning the candy business.
“I grew up a little bit knowing how to run a store,” Laughlin said, explaining that her parents had owned a gift shop. “But I had absolutely no clue about making candy. I probably made a lot of bad fudge there in the beginning.”
Her fudge-making skills got better, introducing a new generation to Uncle Tom’s candies.
That includes Adele Steebs, who works at the candy store.
“[I was] born and raised right in Ellison Bay,” Steebs said. “I remember coming by here and getting all sorts of candy.”
Now, Steebs makes that candy. “I make the brittles,” she added.
After 25 years of operating and living in the historical Door County candy shop, Laughlin is ready to pass the tradition on. “We raised three beautiful kids here,” she explained, “but [we] have had some changes this year. I feel it’s time.”
The Old Newport Schoolhouse is being sold as a house, but for anyone willing to carry on Uncle Tom’s legacy, Laughlin is willing to show the ropes and recipes.
“I just hope someone loves it as much as we did,” she said, “and hopefully continues on Uncle Tom’s.”
Uncle Tom’s Candy Store is known for its sweets, but this decision comes with a slightly different taste. “This is all I’ve known actually, most of my life. I don’t know, it’s bittersweet,” Laughlin said.
Uncle Tom’s will remain open under its current ownership until the building sells.
Due to Covid-19 protocols, Laughlin moved the store outside of the historic building.
She says she plans to move it back into the schoolhouse basement, its original location, in November.