KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Have you ever taken an up close look at a Tennessee Walking Stick? We're not talking about the kind you use to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.
This is a sweet treat made and trademarked at Bradley's in West Knoxville.
Owner Brad Hamlett let us sit in recently as he made a batch. "Our best seller is our Tennessee Walking Stick. We dip it (a pretzel rod) in our special recipe caramel, roll it in fresh pecans, then when those dry, cover them in chocolate," he explained.
Brad says their caramel is the real secret, but he won't tell what's in it or how it's made.
The pretzel, caramel, chocolate treat was a friend's idea years ago, shortly after Hamlett and his father opened their first shop in Knoxville. Now Brad says he makes more than 50,000 a year, all by hand.
Brad has been making chocolate for more than 16 years, but it wasn't always his plan.
He says he stumbled on making sweets while he was in college. "I graduated college from Florida State in '93 with a history degree, and with a history degree you either go to law school or you make chocolate."
Those first couple years in business were a struggle. He and his father even considered closing before finding their new location on N. Peters Road and a new business concept.
"We stayed open and then of course I met my wife and that changed everything," Brad said. "She started adding gifts and we just exploded!"
That's when Bradley's Chocolates became simply Bradleys.
Brad's wife, Joy, explains one reason why adding other items was important. "We just wanted to pull them in. Sometimes women talk themselves out of a piece of chocolate. They will resist temptation. But when you put pretty things in the window, they are like, what's that little shop?"
Although most of the gift items are from other states, more than 3/4 of the chocolates are made at Bradley's every day their store is open.
"If it is not fresh popcorn, it's the Tennessee Walking Sticks. We dip Oreos, Rice Krispy treats, marshmallows, turtles, caramels and then we hand dip a lot of pops," Joy said. "Our chocolate bars, our thank yous, all that kind of stuff is made here all the time."
So what makes their sweets different? Joy says the answer is simple. "We put our heart and soul into every bite. It's just made a little more affection and passion, and we like to think that is what makes it better."
With just one trip into the shop, that passion is evident. So is their focus on doing more than selling items to customers.
"So many (customers) will come in when they get an A on report card, and recently a mom came in. She said her daughter just got her driver's license and we need chocolate," Joy said.