My Biz: Mount Vernon Confections owner finds sweet success

Business has grown from commercial kitchen selling sweets at farmers markets to full retail chocolate store

Published: February 13 2014 | 6:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:33 am in

Mickey Miller doesn’t hesitate to admit that she hates to cook.

“I’m not a complicated recipe person,” she said. “But I have always loved baking. When I am in the kitchen I like to figure out how to make a recipe right and maintain the quality.”

Those are wise words coming from a woman who has spent the last couple of years honing her skills as a chocolatier.

Miller owns Mount Vernon Confections, a chocolate shop that prides itself on high quality, simple chocolate made from top of the line ingredients.

These days, things are very busy at the chocolate shop. They have been since November in fact.

“Christmas is not as challenging as Valentine’s Day,” Miller said of her busy holidays. “Christmas is spread out while Valentine’s Day is just three days really.”

While Miller has been making sweet treats for family members and friends since she was a young girl, it wasn’t until she was laid off from her job in the nonprofit sector in 2009 that Miller began thinking about turning into a career.

“When I was trying to come up with things to do my husband said ‘you like chocolate’ so I decided to start dabbling on my own,” she said.

Miller admits that she knew nothing of running a chocolate business at the time so she met with a SCORE counselor, an organization that helps small businesses get off of the ground, to make sure she was on the right track.

She then enrolled in an online Professional Chocolatier Program through Ecole Chocolat based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “I did tons of research and connected with people from all over the world. Plus my husband and I got to order a bunch of chocolate to taste test our supplies.”

One of the biggest skills Miller learned during that time was how to temper chocolate—which is what gives high quality chocolates that melt in your mouth quality.

“People are fascinated by the chocolate making process and it’s a lot of fun to show kids how peanut butter cups are made,” Miller said.

Mount Vernon Confections soon took off. With the arrival of her food processing plant license from the State of Iowa in July of 2010, Miller started selling products with her husband—known by locals as Farmer Dave—at farmers markets. She also sold wholesale to the New Pioneer Food Co-Op in Iowa City and Coralville.

As more chocolate lovers found Mount Vernon Confections, Miller decided to not only use her commercial kitchen for productions, but also to open her shop for retail in October of 2011—right before the Christmas season—and hire on three staff people to help with production.

Mount Vernon Confections now offers a wide variety of tasty treats. Truffles are the signature item, but shoppers can find caramels, covered nuts, dipped pretzels, peanut butter cups among other treats. Miller said she also has a lot of fun using chocolate molds to make various shaped chocolates related to the holiday. She even makes chocolate pigs and ears of corn.

“Peanut butter scotcheroos are still my favorite thing I make,” said Miller, noting she still uses the recipe she learned in seventh grade.

Miller users fruits from her own farm as often as possible when making chocolates and ice cream, she said, —such as in their signature dark chocolate raspberry truffle.

And while Miller said it’s very rare that she has to deal with a grouchy customer, making chocolates and owning a business are tough no matter the season.

“Running a small business is challenging,” she said, noting right now there is talk of a cocoa shortage. “But it makes me happy to do this. It has been a lot of fun. For me it’s methodical and relaxing, and I find myself smiling for no apparent reason.”

At a glance

  • Name: Mickey Miller
  • Business: Mount Vernon Confections
  • Address: Old School Shops, 221 1st St. NE, Mount Vernon
  • Phone: (319) 310-6399
  • Website: http://www.mvconfections.com

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