Business & economy, In the community

Mother-daughter duo’s determination leads to opening Ontario candy store

ONTARIO – Valerie Gomez knows a lot about grief.

She also knows a great deal about how to transform a dream into reality through determination and willpower.

Those emotions and qualities helped spearhead her and her daughter’s plan to open their new business, Manita’s Crunchie Munchies, at 369 South Oregon Street. The store is open Tuesday’s through Saturday’s from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 “I’ve been searching for an Ontario, new business idea, kind of going back and forth with the candy store idea for a good year or so,” said Gomez.

Gomez’s grief stems from a family tragedy. Six years ago, Gomez lost her 19-year-old daughter, Monica to what police termed an accidental drug overdose.

That’s where the name, Manita’s Crunchie Munchies, came from.

“It is just like shortened little sister in Spanish. We just called her Mana,” said Gomez.

Gomez said the loss of her daughter was devastating.

“It is still the worst thing. People say the pain gets less, but I don’t know. I think it gets harder as time goes by. The longer she is gone the more we miss her,” said Gomez.

Gomez said she can feel her daughter “all over the store.”
Manita’s Crunchie Munchies isn’t your average candy store. The store offers between about 30 varieties of candy that are freeze dried.

Valerie Gomez and her daughter, Anita Arsenault, recently opened Manita’s Crunchie Munchies in Ontario. The store sells freeze-dried candy. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“We have all kinds of colorful names for the candy,” said Gomez.

Gomez said her and her daughter, Anita Arsenault, 36, don’t make their own candy but alter it through the freeze-dried process.

Candy like Skittles is frozen and then placed in freeze driers that use a strong vacuum to transform the water in the candy from ice to vapor. The process preserves the flavors of the candy and creates unique textures that are often crispy. The candy, when freeze dried, also lasts longer than regular candy.

“By the time it (candy) goes through the whole process it blows up into a huge crunchy delicious marble,” said Gomez.

The candy does not lose its taste, said Gomez.

“It’s just bigger and better and crunchier,” said Gomez.

The work to freeze dry the candy can take hours, said Gomez.

“A lot of people don’t understand the process. Our quickest candy takes four hours. Some other candies take up to 14 to 16 hours to complete,” said Gomez.

Manita’s Crunchie Munchies in Ontario offers between 25 to 30 different freeze-dried candies. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Gomez said she and her daughter can’t just “throw the candy into the machine and go.”

A good example, she said, is salt water taffy.

“You line the taffy up on trays and it has to be a certain temperature and time and you load the trays in the machine and it has a vacuum pump that turns itself on and that pump is what helps alter the candy inside the machine. That’s also what gives the candy its blown up effect,” said Gomez.

Gomez said the candy might “blow up ten times its size or two times its size, just depends.”

“It’s fun,” said Gomez. “Most of our products are in bulk so people can come get one or 100.”

Gomez said the idea for a store came to her after she tasted Skittles that were freeze dried.

“I was like, oh my gosh, these are so much better freeze dried. I thought, we don’t have anything like this,” said. Gomez.

No long after, Gomez and her daughter sat down and mapped out a future plan.

“At first I was going to do it out of my house. Then I got to really surveying my house. I have two dogs and four cats, so I was thinking where am I going to put this machine where there is no animal hair?” said Gomez.

Gomez said she then drove downtown Ontario and spotted a vacant store front.

“Within a month we were in the building,” said Gomez.

The sale of a house and a timely tax return helped Gomez and her daughter to get the business off the ground. The store opened in October.

“I didn’t want to take out a loan. If I am having to pay back some great big loan it doesn’t help us,” said Gomez.

Gomez and her daughter are both single mothers and they also are parents to families with special needs children.

Valerie Gomez, co-owner of Manita’s Crunchie Munchies in Ontario fills up a bag with freeze-dried goodies at her store, Wednesday, Dec. 27. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“I have an adult son with autism. One of the three grandsons I am raising is 12 and also has autism. My daughter has four boys and one of her sons has autism,” said Gomez.

Gomez said she and Anita focus a great deal of time on their children and grandchildren. That could appear to be a challenge for new business owners, but Gomez said owning their own business actually fits well into their busy family schedules. Owning their own business, said Gomez, gives her and Anita a great deal flexibility.

“We still have the availability for our kids. It is not just, job, job, job and am I going to get fired because I have to leave to take care of my child. I’m the owner. I’m not going to get fired,” said Gomez.

Gomez said she hopes to raise awareness regarding autism, citing her son as an example.

“We still get stares when we go into the grocery store because he paces and he is very vocal. You’d think everyone would understand autism now because it is so prevalent,” said Gomez.

Gomez, said she did not graduate from high school but instead earned her general education diploma. Then, when she was 37, she decided to attend Treasure Valley Community College.

She said she earned associate’s degrees in business, office and medical office management.

“It is a fun job. I get to play with candy all day. I get to be inventive with candy. Kind of a girl Willie Wonka,” said Gomez.

Gomez said right now her biggest challenge is “getting the word out” regarding the store.

“I would say if you love candy, definitely come into the store,” said Gomez.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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