Home sweet home: Candy store owners open motel
MIDDLEBURY — Naturally after Blanca Jenne and her husband, Brad, bought the Greystone Motel on Route 7 South in Middlebury late last year, they wanted to update the property. “This place needed a lot of love,” Blanca Jenne says. “The furniture was from the ’80s and ’90s.” First the place was cleaned top to bottom, and new beds and bedding were also at the top of the list. Some new drywall and carpet were installed.
Then Jenne started to plan the cosmetic changes. She considered a Twizzler-themed room, but opted for Willy Wonka instead. It fit in nicely with the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Room, Hershey’s Room, M&M’s Room and Kisses Room — that’s the chocolate wing. On the other side of the central office are four more rooms built around the themes Laffy Taffy, Gummi Bears, Jelly Belly and Sour Patch Kids.
The central office, where guests check in — that’s a candy store that stocks more than 1,500 varieties of confectioneries.
Oh, and the Jennes changed the name of the business to the Middlebury Sweets Motel.
“Some people see the room and say, ‘Oh that’s why you spell it sweets,’” and not “suites,” Blanca Jenne says.
The Jennes are not new to the local business world, nor to the candy business. Brad Jenne has operated U-Haul and self-storage businesses off Ossie Road in East Middlebury for almost two decades. In 2012 the Jennes converted a scrapbooking business at the Ossie Road property into the Middlebury Sweets candy store, which they billed as the largest candy store in Vermont. With a selection of 1,300 different sweet treats it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a larger candy store.
Since they moved the candy store into the motel this summer, the selection has actually grown. In addition to Jelly Belly, Mars, Nestle and Hershey products, the candy store also features Haribo, Ferrara, Pez and Sixlets brand sweets — among many, many others. Blanca makes more than 100 varieties of her own handcrafted chocolates in a kitchen that is nicer, more conveniently set up than in the old shop.
Blanca says that a majority of motel guests end up shopping in the candy store. “I haven’t seen anyone disappointed to find a big candy store in the motel,” she said. “They think it’s a little odd, but they’re happy.”
And, while the staff leave five or six candies in a bowl in each room, she knows that at this point customers aren’t coming to the Middlebury Sweets Motel for the treats. “They are pretty much people looking for something less expensive,” Blanca says. “We are the least expensive lodging option in Middlebury.” She has been pleasantly surprised at how good business has been, and says she is lucky to have good employees. Most guests are in town for temporary work, such as the crew that has been working on the Congregational Church of Middlebury steeple.
The candy theme is fun, but Blanca didn’t want to take it too far, since for most of her customers candy is not the main reason they are staying in the Middlebury Sweets. “Some people say I should get candy comforters, but I don’t want the rooms go over the top,” she says. “We tried to keep it subtle, to keep in nice and fun … If I was in a different location maybe I would go nuts and make it a huge theme thing, but not for Middlebury.”
At some point Blanca will add a feature to the motel’s website that will enable guests to choose their preferred candy-themed room (at this point some do make a choice if they book a room over the phone). She also has plans to soon begin leaving handmade chocolate leaves on each guest’s pillow before too long.
“Oh, I’ve got a lot of ideas,” she said.
One change the Jennes definitely have planned for next year is to paint the white and mint-green building a fresh golden yellow with barn red trim; they’re also going to add a barn red metal roof.
Blanca clearly loves owning and running a motel with a candy theme. She gets to weigh the potential customer delight in all of the details and embellishments she dreams up vs. the expense and the return each would bring. And she gets to make chocolate. But she keeps her business in perspective.
“We are a MOtel,” Blanca says. “People are generally looking for a cheaper option and we offer that.
“And we’re clean!” she adds.
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