People have been asking us about the theme we've chosen for this year's annual Best of Kansas City issue. They wonder: Why Candyland?
Well, it's like this: One afternoon not so long ago, we were staring out the third-floor windows here at 1701 Main, mesmerized for the hundredth time at the up-up-up progress of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
We were hungry that afternoon, the very day we were choosing a theme for BOKC, the kind of hungry that alters perceptions a bit for want of something ... something ... ahhh, something sweet. Suddenly, we saw it. The Kauffman Center, observed just so, looked just like the illustration on a Valomilk wrapper.
Candyland! We're in Candyland!
Charles Ferruzza, our food critic, staff writer and go-to historian, immediately reminded us that Harry Sifers created the Valomilk Candy Cup in Kansas City in 1931. And today, the sticky sweet is made here by the family. Harry was an idea man. He often came up with names for his candy bars before his chief confectioner could devise the recipe. When the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922, Harry noted the media frenzy and rolled out the Old King Tut bar, an ultimately doomed nut roll.
We've been America's sweet basket for most of the last century. KC's 1911 city directory lists dozens of independently owned confectionery shops. Each sold house-made candies: fudge, lemon drops, marshmallows, peppermint sticks. Around the same time, a young farmer named Russell Stover decided that growing flax wasn't for him, and he took a sales job with a Minnesota candy company.
Pushing candy turned out to be a lot more pleasurable than farming. Within a decade, Stover and his wife, Clara, had opened a second candy factory in Kansas City to produce Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies.
Russell Stover remains headquartered in Kansas City and is the largest manufacturer of boxed chocolates in America, as well as the third-largest chocolate manufacturer in the country (after Hershey's and Mars).
This local tradition is being updated by, among others, Christopher Elbow, who does with modern passion and invention what Russell Stover did 80 years ago: Create fine chocolates and ice creams.
Innovations in this town aren't limited to candy, but the things we're proudest of are all pretty sweet. So for your sampling delight, we've unwrapped 2011's best local businesses, restaurants, bars, concert venues, writers, artists, performers, athletes, chefs, and on and on. Of course, we always ask you, the reader, what you're sweet on these days. Your answers to our biggest-ever readers' poll are right up front. Between your opinions and ours, there's a lot to chew on. Enjoy.
Art Director: Ashford Stamper
Illustrations: Ashford Stamper and Paul Kisling
Writers: Berry Anderson, Jonathan Bender, Charles Ferruzza, Deborah Hirsch, David Hudnall, Justin Kendall, David Martin, Chris Packham, Ben Palosaari, Nadia Pflaum, Chris Rasmussen, Nancy Hull Rigdon, Nick Spacek, Abbie Stutzer and Scott Wilson
Proofreader: Brent Shepherd
Copy Editor: Deborah Hirsch
Managing Editor: David Martin
Editor: Scott Wilson