Q&A: The Candy Man

…and family

Gift BasketsThe Ulibarri family’s route to its new shop at 161 Bridge Street has been circuitous and – as is often the case with small businesses – not without challenges. What it has continued to have is faithful customers who love the candy they make. The store came out of a family who personifies “family first” when it comes to making decisions.

Mike, a native of Espanola, moved with his parents (Jose and Magdalena Ulibarri) to their home town of Anton Chico, N.M., when he was in junior high. Donna’s parents, (Eloy and Marcella Montoya), owned and operated the Plaza Supper Club at the Plaza Hotel from 1962 until they sold it in 1975. They moved to Golondrinas (Mora County), where Mike, Donna and their son, Chris, currently reside. Mike said he and Donna met at the Flower Pot (on the Plaza) in 1979 and married in 1980 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. “Old Town Las Vegas has always meant a lot to us,” he said. After 20 years in the Navy, Mike retired. He and Donna moved back to Golondrinas to help Donna’s parents.

Mike said Donna’s gifts of candy at Christmas one year were such a hit, he talked her into making it for a craft fair. They sold out by noon. That was in 2002 and they have been making candy commercially ever since, but had to take a break from the business in 2009 when Donna’s father’s health began to fail. Mr. Montoya passed away in 2012.

Christmas GoodiesWhen Mike and Donna decided to go back into business in 2014 they choose to go with a home-based business for production. Only the family can sell the product, but the Ulibarri family is okay with that. Electing to keep the enterprise small and manageable, for two years they sold “door to door” and participated in fairs and farmers’ markets. It meant loading and unloading, setting up and tearing down, which began to affect Mike’s health. When they saw that Paper Trail was relocating, the soon-to-be vacant spot looked to be ideal for their needs. The Ulibarri Farms Candy Shoppe opened its doors in late October.

The family has put its signature style on the interior with a counter made from reclaimed wood and, for now, seasonal decorations made and arranged by Donna. It is an inviting space with delectable temptations. Below are Mike’s responses to questions about what being in this business means to him and his family.

ORP: What inspired you to go into the candy making business?
Mike: Donna made candy as Christmas gifts. They were such a hit I encouraged her to make them for sale. At our first fair, we sold out before noon.

ORP: What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?

  • Have good people behind you. I couldn’t do it without my family.
  • Be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked.
  • Have fun.

ORP: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful business person?

  • Honesty
  • Have a good attitude.
  • Don’t be afraid to try. The worst thing that could happen is that they say, “No.”

Peppermint Fudge BallsORP: How did you decide what candies you wanted to make when you kicked off your business?
Mike: The brittle has always been a great seller and my wife’s fudge is a close second. We are known for them.

ORP: You make the candy at home. Talk about the challenges of having a home-based manufacturing operation.
Mike: Days like today are very challenging. When one of us has to stay home, and cook, while the other is at the shop. Tomorrow Donna will be home cooking. She and her mother, who is blind, will package all the candy she makes, as well as the candy I made today. We have a designated area for candy production that we keep separate from the living area, so really the biggest challenge is time management. Our son Chris, is finishing up his semester. He does an online school from home. As soon as he is done we will have an extra pair of hands.

ORP: How has running the business affected your life?
Mike: We didn’t expect it to be so much fun!

ORP: What motivates you?
Mike: I have a nice life, and a nice family. That’s what motivates me every day. I’m proud of the candy we make and I’m proud that so many people like it so much.

ORP: How do you generate ideas for expanding the types of candy you offer?
Mike: My wife wakes up in the morning with all kinds of ideas. I don’t think she ever sleeps!

ORP: What is your greatest concern, and how do you manage that concern?
Mike: I worry that we can’t keep up. So we work harder.

ORP: How do you define success?

Gift BasketsORP: How did you fund your business?
Mike: Navy Federal Credit union gave us a small personal loan.

ORP: How did you build a customer base?
Mike: Word of mouth, walking around town and giving out samples, attending meetings like the one (Rotary Club of Las Vegas) where I met you.

ORP: Talk about your new location on Bridge Street?
Mike: We love our new Ulibarri Farms Candy Shoppe. It’s just the right size and Bridge Street is so quaint. Lots of foot traffic, lots of great stores and restaurants and the other merchants in the area have given us the warmest welcome we could have ever gotten.

ORP: How do you market your business?
Mike: Radio, flyers, social media, and I talk to EVERYONE!

Quick Facts:
Ulibarri Farms Candy Shoppe
Location: 161 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, NM  87701
Hours: M-Sat 11 am to 6 pm, Sunday 11 am to 3 pm
Phone: 505-425-3123
Website: Ulibarri Farms
E-mail. Ulibarrifarms@aol.com
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