Bittersweet: Family owned chocolate shop in Inkster to close after 105 years

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Inkster — The mood at Corden's Candy Carrousel, much like the dark chocolate flying off the shelves, was bittersweet Saturday afternoon. The 105-year-old chocolaterie is set to close permanently this weekend but owner Nick Corden, 66, remained hard at work trying to serve all his loyal customers one last time.

Corden's Candy Carrousel was started in 1918 by Nick's grandfather Sam, a Greek immigrant, and Sam's cousin Gus. It was originally located on Michigan Avenue in downtown Detroit but has changed locations twice since then, each time moving further up Michigan Avenue.

Corden makes each sweet treat by hand in the back two rooms of the one-story building while his staff works the front counter serving loyal customers like Shannon Warren.

"I pretty much grew up coming here. ... As a little girl, you know, my dad would stop in for the holidays and get my mix box," the 45-year-old Romulus native said.

Warren began taking her daughter Tara Warren, 23, to Corden's recently, continuing a tradition that her mother and grandmother started.

Zaria Torres, left, and her friend, Chandra Hall, both of Inkster, buy chocolate from sales clerk Sandra Maurer, of Livonia, Saturday, May 13, 2023.

Corden's father Evans took over the family business from Sam and attended candy and chocolate schools across the country. He ran the business with his wife Maria until her death in 2009.

"He tweaked a lot of Sam's recipes, came up with a lot of his own recipes. My dad was pretty much the genius behind the taste of these chocolates," Corden said while scooping one of the final batches of hand-mixed dark chocolate coconut clusters onto a baking sheet Saturday afternoon. "I was a lawyer. I'm still a lawyer, but I left the firm when my mom died and decided to work with my dad."

Corden's Candy Carrousel owner Nick Corden mixes dark chocolate coconut cluster in the back shop, Saturday, May 13, 2023.

Corden said he'd always thought about going back to the chocolate shop but it was only possible to do so and support his family when his wife decided to go back to work as well. He has three sons who grew up helping around the shop when they were able to.

"As the kids got older, they would come down here and help a little bit when they had time or they were in town," Corden said.

Over the course of three generations, the Corden's have served walk-in customers as well as big-name clients like Jacobson's Department Store and Motor City Casino. But for the last few years the walk-in demand has been too great to continue with outside accounts, Corden said. The business is typically open from Labor Day to Mother's Day and closed during the summer when it is too hot to make chocolate in the shop, with no insulation or air conditioning.

"Whenever you heat chocolate or cool chocolate, you have to do it slowly. ... The cocoa commodity is very sensitive to temperature," Corden said. "They need to set in a cool room which I have. ... It's a rather archaic system, but it works quite well."

Corden's Candy Carrousel owner Nick Corden scoops out chocolate coconut cluster onto a tray in the back shop, Saturday, May 13, 2023.

The methods have not changed "one iota" in the last 100 years, Corden said. The family's recipes are stored in "the bible," a black binder at least tow inches thick that is kept in the back of the shop. The recipes have been continuously tweaked and rewritten, often after happy accidents yield delicious results, Corden said.

Corden's workshop, filled with the aroma of fresh chocolate, contains stoves for cooking caramel, blocks for chopped pecans, walnuts and cashews, stand mixers, baking sheet racks and a chocolate cooling tunnel. Family photos of the original Corden chocolatiers are scattered around the shop along with memorabilia of Corden's three sons. Sometimes he spends 10-12 hours every day of the week in that room.

"The candy making, chocolate making, is kind of a one-man show but there's a small group of two or three people that I need to make it work," Corden said. "You would think it would drive me crazy, it doesn't drive me crazy at all. ... I don't mind the alone time now."

But Corden thinks he is due for a life change and would like to spend more time in northern Michigan.

"It was just time to slow down," Corden said. "I've done it long enough."

Long-time customer Kayla Connors, left, holds her daughter, Florence, 11-months-old, both of Allen Park, as sales clerk Lisa Deman, right, of Westland, welcomes them, Saturday, May 13, 2023.

The shop was almost entirely sold out of candy by Saturday afternoon, much to the dismay of long-time customers hoping for one final taste. Some even inquired about the 3-year-old display candies still sitting on the showroom shelves.

Paula Selonke, 66, grew up in Inkster a few streets away from Corden's, which was on the way to and from her daily school. The owners used to leave treats and spoons in chocolate buckets at the back door for Selonke and her brothers to help themselves to on their walk home from school. Despite moving north to East Jordan, the five-hour drive has not kept Selonke from getting Corden's for special occasions.

"It's worth it. Easter, Mother's Day and Christmas I still do it," she said. "The history and the people and going from generation to generation is really nice."

Corden's Candy Carrousel in Inkster, which opened in 1918, is permanently closing this weekend.

Corden says he might try and move his work to a new location and fill orders by mail. He hopes this will be possible, although some of the equipment is from the original shop that opened in 1918.

"I hope to take some of the equipment and kind of make a little smaller product line," Corden said. "And I want to try to do it on a smaller scale maybe somewhere else."

Customers like Constance Lee-Collins, 40, will definitely follow Corden if he decides to open up shop elsewhere. The Detroit native moved to Inkster about seven years ago and fell in love with the chocolate shop.

"I kind of made it like a treat so of course on Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Halloween," Lee-Collins said. "I'm lost for words because I didn't know they were closing. ... It's bittersweet. I get it, life happens, folks gotta move on to new things but it's gonna be sad."