RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- Reno-based Kimmie Candy sells chocolate candy to all 50 states and nine countries.
It takes 40 employees to produce the 10,000 pounds of product a day to keep up with the demand and the company is growing between 10 and percent every year, according to President and CEO Joe Dutra.
Kimmie Candy sold 1.8 million pounds of candy and earned sales of more than $5 million in 2016.
"We're spraying hot chocolate. They're doing almonds," said Dutra as he walked into a room filled with chocolate mist. Chocolate lovers would call the smell delightful.
Several large silver coating pans covered in a thin layer of chocolate lined a wall. They were each spinning roasted almonds as chocolate sprayers slowly coated the nuts one layer at a time.
All of this is happening in the Biggest Little City because of a conversation Dutra had with a friend in the late 1990's, "He was going through some hard times and I gave him some money to help him out a little bit. He decided that he needed to pay me back."
Mark Perreira paid Dutra back with 40,000 pounds of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. Perreira purchased the seeds from a cargo ship container in a California harbor because it was collecting demurrage.
There was only one problem; the sunflower seeds had to be sold. Joe's friend said he would do this.
"I ended up putting all this candy in this container (he points to a blue refrigerated ship container sitting behind his Company in Reno) and this was in about October of 1999," Dutra said.
Four months later, he found his friend hadn't sold any candy because he said the candy-selling business was hard to break into if you don't already have well established contacts.
Joe had no idea much this predicament would change his life and the candy industry.
He read the book "Emperors of Chocolate", which reveals the secrets behind the success of Hershey's and Mars. Joe says the companies' high morals, family values and recession-proof sales inspired him to sell the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and to launch is own business.
"Everybody told me I was crazy and I couldn't do it because I was a farmer and had no experience in retail or marketing," he said.
Joe proved them wrong. In 2003, The National Confectioners Association awarded Kimmie Candy's ChocoRocks® product of the year. They look like rocks, but are actually chocolate chunks coated in a candy shell.
"Now ChocoRocks® are one of our biggest selling items nationwide and it's one of the top 15 toppings in the United States for yogurt and ice cream shops," Dutra said.
ChocoRocks® are one of 25 products Dutra's company makes and sells, and are one of the toppings inside Menchie's Frozen Yogurt at 435 Sparks Boulevard in Sparks.
Once Dutra knew Kimmie Candy would survive the highly competitive candy market, he made the critical decision to move his manufacturing facility from Busan, South Korea to Reno.
Hourly wages in South Korea at that time were $4 an hour. Joe says he pays around $10 to $11 an hour in Reno today. He lost money and tax advantages by moving his Company to Nevada, but says this decision was not about money.
"We're creating jobs and those jobs create money for the local economy and for the industry and we buy products from local companies," Dutra said. He buys coffee beans from "Hub Coffee Roasters" in downtown Reno at 727 Riverside Drive to make his Xpresso ChocoRocks®.
Dutra buys chocolate from a company 234 miles away from Reno in Union City, California between San Francisco and San Jose.
As Dutra lifted chocolate from a large cardboard box he said, "This is actually dark chocolate from Blommer Chocolate. So this is a ten pound bar. Very high quality."
From making unique chocolate creations in a Reno manufacturing plant, to packaging and shipping and eventually on to customers around the world. This process is repeated millions of times because of one man, his unique journey and a vision for making candy in Nevada.
You can tour Kimmie Candy Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. alone or in a group of as many as 60 people. Click here for instructions to book your own tour.
Several stores sell Kimmie Candy including Hobby Lobby, Whole Foods and Rayley's. Dutra says he is considering whether to sell his candy in WalMart stores.