Janet Shulman hand-dips caramel apples at The Caramel House in St. Louis.

The Caramel House Hits the Sweet Spot in St. Louis

Tuesday April 25, 2023

By Rachel Huffman

As sweet as sugar, Janet Shulman runs The Caramel House with business acumen, endless energy and a radiant smile.

Before she launched The Caramel House, Shulman owned The Bake House, making cookies, brownies and other treats for local restaurants from the commercial kitchen at The Woman’s Exchange. Her desserts were a huge hit, and eventually, people asked her to add caramel candy to her repertoire.

“At the time, both of my children wore braces, so I knew I needed to craft a caramel that wouldn’t stick to their teeth,” Shulman says. “I experimented at home for hours at a time until I perfected my recipe for salted caramel.”

Shulman’s small-batch caramels sold out regularly, and she started considering next steps for her business. “One night, I was lying in bed, and I heard my grandmother’s voice say, ‘It’s the caramels, stupid,’” she says with a laugh. “It was 2 a.m., but I got up and rewrote my entire website.” And so, The Caramel House was born.

Janet Shulman owns and operates The Caramel House in St. Louis.
Photo by Mark Hermes

Shulman moved her operation to an abandoned Masonic lodge in Clayton, where she began to rebuild her business.

“I got a call from Tim Ezell’s producer, who asked if I wanted to do a live segment on Fox 2 about my business” Shulman says. “At that point, I didn’t have anything to lose, so I said OK. I knew Tim liked bacon, so we made bacon-flavored caramel and other fun treats during the show.”

The general manager of Straub’s saw Shulman on TV and placed a massive order for her caramel candy. The Taste of Saint Louis box, which features two of each flavor of caramel (Simply Salted, Naked Turtle, Bourbon Vanilla, Coffee, Cookie & Caramel and Lavendar) caught fire, and soon, Shulman was selling her sweets at independently owned supermarkets in four states.

After almost six years of working tirelessly in a windowless building, Shulman opened her brick-and-mortar location at 9639 Olive Blvd. in Olivette. Approximately eight years later, she’s built a wonderful community around The Caramel House, spreading joy with each and every confection.

The Caramel House is an old-fashioned confectionery with a twist.
Photo by Mark Hermes

Here, Shulman shares more about her products and what you can expect from a visit to The Caramel House.

Why do you enjoy making small-batch sweets?

As a small-batch sweets company, I can control the ingredients that go into each product. Our treats are 100 percent natural, and I cook them with regional ingredients, including butter from Grassland Dairy, cream from Prairie Farms and Missouri pecans. The Caramel House is peanut-free and, for the most part, gluten-free, and we make vegan products such as the Vegan Turtle [Missouri pecans and dried cranberries drenched in dark chocolate]. When you make small batches, you have to cook constantly, which would drive some people crazy, but I enjoy it. I think people appreciate the high quality of our products, and I love to watch their faces when they taste a piece of fresh caramel. When they close their eyes and say, “Mmm,” I receive instant gratification.

What are some of your most popular flavors of caramel candy?

Simply Salted is a classic, but my first flavor of caramel candy was Bourbon Vanilla. I used a lot of bourbon and vanilla in my cookies and brownies at The Bake House, and those ingredients also elevate the caramel. Bacon has been popular from the get-go. It’s sweet, savory and smoky; it’s absolutely delicious. Other fun flavors include Champagne, Horchata, Worms, which has half of a gummy worm in it, and caramels with milk and dark chocolate. Pretzel Logic, one of our newest flavors, has a milk chocolate-covered pretzel on top of the caramel pillow, so you get the crunch of the pretzel, the creaminess of the milk chocolate and the smoothness of the caramel. When I experiment with new flavors, I use my customers as my taste-testers. It’s nice to get immediate feedback.

The Caramel House sells flavored caramels such as Simply Salted.
Photo by Mark Hermes

With what other products do you tempt customers?

At The Caramel House, we waste not, want not. With the caramel, we cut it into pillows and wrap the pillows into kisses, but there are some leftover scraps. So, we melt the scraps, dip our apples in the “liquid gold” and then roll the apples in an assortment of toppings such as Missouri pecans and colorful sprinkles. We stuff cannoli with caramel, and we douse popcorn – which we pop in coconut oil – with Simply Salted caramel, Bourbon caramel, dark chocolate and Cheddar cheese. Some people ask why we only have four flavors of popcorn, and it’s because we nail it in four. Our English toffee is also fabulous. People can never get enough of it, which is why we call it “Krack.”

The Caramel House in St. Louis makes addictive English toffee.
Photo by Mark Hermes

What are the benefits of a storefront?

The storefront allows me to stay connected to the community and vice versa. Some of my regular customers call me “The Sugar Bartender” because I take the time to talk to them about the ups and downs of life. Small businesses and hidden gems like The Caramel House make people want to explore an area, which adds to the vibrancy of our region. The Caramel House is an old-fashioned confectionery with a twist, and I think that people like coming here for that sense of nostalgia, as well. If you call ahead, you can also book private tours of the shop, which run on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 to 10:45 a.m. During the free tour, you’ll learn about the candy-making process while munching on yummy samples – we love to spoil our guests!

Want to customize your caramel candy? The Caramel House can craft sweet squares in your preferred flavor and color for bake sales, birthday parties, weddings, corporate events and more.