Lisa and Jim Schalk are the husband-and-wife team that founded Toffee to Go 14 years ago.
PINELLAS PARK – Toffee to Go opened its new 16,000 production facility at 7100 56th St. N. in Pinellas Park, March 25, celebrating with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The company, which got its start 14 years ago, outgrew its 3,000-square-foot space in South Tampa and searched the Tampa Bay region for perfect space to cook, cool and package its toffee. The South Tampa location will remain open as a storefront.
Co-owner Lisa Schalk said she and her husband, Jim, originally began making the toffee, which is a recipe passed down from his family, for holiday gifts.
“Everybody raved about it and said we needed to sell the stuff,” she said.
For the first three years, the Schalks operated the company out of their home. Jim cooked all the toffee on their kitchen stovetop, while she handled the majority of the business. That first year, they cooked 125 pounds of toffee in their home.
Eventually, they took “a leap of faith,” Lisa said, and opened the South Tampa storefront and production facility. Her husband left an established career as a hotel management executive.
“I think he tossed and turned and had some trouble sleeping, following the decision at first,” Lisa said. “But I slept like a baby because I knew it was going to work.”
That first year in their South Tampa digs they cooked and sold over 20,000 pounds of toffee. Their process remained the same, too. Each batch is made in one small pot to create “quality, small-batch, handmade toffee,” she said.
The company has seven permanent employees and Jim still does the majority of the cooking, Lisa said. Three additional cooks are brought in as they ramp up for the holiday season, though. They hire 35 seasonal workers total.
Last year, the company made and sold over 100,000 pounds of toffee.
“That’s a lot of toffee,” Lisa said. “We really outgrew that facility. We were busting at the seams. We stayed probably three seasons longer than we should have.”
Toffee to Go’s business was already growing organically when the Schalks met several of Oprah’s producers and staff members at a gift buying showcase in Atlanta in July 2013.
“They tried the toffee and loved it and overnighted a sample to Oprah,” Lisa said.
A month later, they were told Toffee to Go was chosen to be on Oprah’s Favorite Things list in the December 2013 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine.
“It was the most exciting thing to ever happen in my professional career,” Lisa said.
To prepare for the publication, the Schalks ramped up production, cooking 24 hours a days. Business increased by 60 percent following Oprah’s endorsement.
“It was great, but I don’t think we could have handled much more than that where we were,” Lisa said.
So the new space in Pinellas Park is “a dream come true,” she added. “It’s just perfect. It has everything we needed.”
The facility already came equipped with the coolers and freezers that are crucial to the toffee-making process. To purchase and install such equipment themselves would have been costly, she said.
The warehouse also has a loading dock, unlike the South Tampa location, which will help streamline their shipping process.
“It was such an easy decision to move here,” Lisa said. “We’re just so excited to be over here. We’ve had such a great welcoming from the city of Pinellas Park.”