Tallahassee’s Sweet Side
Hard candies crafted from hand-cranked tools, melt-in-your-mouth macarons featuring premium ingredients and made-from-scratch peanut brittles blended in small batches are among the signature indulgences locally owned and operated businesses like Tallahassee’s Lofty Pursuits, Au Peche Mignon and Barb’s Gourmet Brittles create to satisfy a sweet tooth.
All three of these one-of-a-kind, homegrown businesses have been crafting their confections for decades.
With its classic soda counter, vintage candy-making presses used to shape flavorful, colorful treats and retail displays of classic toys like jigsaw puzzles, Lofty Pursuits recreates hybrid ice cream shops and general merchandise stores that historically inhabited neighborhoods.
“I am giving you something you are not going to find or taste anywhere else and making you feel at home,” said Greg Cohen who parlayed a career manufacturing and delivering mail order juggling equipment and yo-yos into a brick-and-mortar business that combines dexterity-demanding skill toys with hand-scooped ice cream. He recalls similar all-under-one-roof shops that were commonplace during his childhood in New York.
“It was simple stuff but it brought me so much joy that I wanted to take that concept to a higher, more gourmet level to make Lofty Pursuits a destination,” the Tallahassee-based businessman said.
In addition to the floats, freezes and much more that are served here, Lofty Pursuits offers a popular brunch that features select locally sourced foods. But what truly sets this eclectic emporium apart is the on-site candy-making that welcomes visitors to watch as hard candies are created using simple ingredients and vintage equipment powered by people, not electricity. Soft, malleable strips of candy are fed into presses, stamped into uniform shapes and left to cool so they can break apart into bite-sized pieces.
Expect lines of eager customers waiting for their turn to order when stopping by Au Péché Mignon Tuesdays through Saturdays. Offering takeout only, guests crowd around display cases filled with freshly made flaky croissants and brioches, dark chocolate truffles, pastel-colored macarons, crusty breads, moist muffins and more to make their selections. The French pastry shop that first opened in 1991 now occupies a downtown storefront building where all of the baking and making occurs for this exceptional patisserie, boulangerie and chocolatier.
Co-owners and spouses Joseph and Lisa Gans both apprenticed with the original owner who launched what was then a small pastry shop located in a modest retail center before they bought the business.
“Then we grew the menu, grew production and grew the square footage,” Joseph said. “Being able to offer Tallahassee something outside of the traditional Southern and American offerings is really our niche. And we have been doing it for so long that our name is known, even if people can’t pronounce it,” he joked. Au Peche Mignon means “a little sin,” a sly reference to the indulgences that keep clients coming and coming back.
“We don’t stay stagnant. We add and change what we make and are always focusing on making something exquisite and potentially new for our customers. We want to keep everything fresh and keep it the right quality.”
Duck into a lakeside cottage to discover a world of specialty peanut brittles, pralines, ice creams, cookies and more that Barbara McGarrah has built. What began with a single candy recipe has grown from holiday gifts made exclusively for family members into a namesake business, Barb’s Gourmet Brittles.
The storefront located along Lake Ella is where all of the candy-making magic happens. The original brittle has expanded to more than two dozen varieties, each sporting a different mix of ingredients ranging from pecans and pistachios to pumpkin and sunflower seeds to trail mix-inspired concoctions and nut-free versions.
“Cooking always came easy to me and I loved to make desserts,” McGarrah said. Knowing peanut brittle was a childhood favorite of her father’s, she boxed up batches as presents for family members that included five sisters, five brothers and 30 plus nieces and nephews. Then the peanut pipeline dried up.
“It was hard to find peanuts and I did not know if they were fresh,” she recalled. Fortunately her father procured enough nuts to accommodate the family gift list with 50 pounds of nuts to spare. Marketing her brittle at a local senior center and community events, coupled with orders from a South Florida retailer who wanted to sell the sweets, made McGarrah realize she had found her destiny. Of course, the fact that her family nickname is Cookie and her birthday coincides with National Peanut Brittle Day may have factored into her decision.
Today the Black-owned business run by McGarrah and her husband promotes select products on Amazon as well as online via the shop’s web site.
She credits the community’s support small businesses for giving her an opportunity to get established, expand and excel.
“If I had started in Orlando, where I am from, we would have been lost among the franchises that are there,” she said. “Today our Tallahassee label travels all over the world. When people want to share something unique, this is where they come.”
Mary Lou Jansen