(HELENA) Buying a box of candy is pretty easy, but the process of making that candy is anything but; especially when that process is done by hand.
Tucked inside the Capital City sits a candy store from the past. Soda fountains, a jukebox and hand dipped candies, all found inside The Parrot.
“It’s fun creating different things; you’re using pure, unadulterated chocolate,” said candy dipper Terri Dronen.
The Parrot opened its doors in 1922, serving hundreds of customers day in and day out over the years; “It’s a big part of Helena’s history,” Dronen said.
While there have been a few owner changes over the last 96 years, not much else is different. All of the candy is created in house.
The caramel is mixed, poured and cut. The wafers are dyed and hand dropped. Unique sorbet flavors are crafted and blended. All under one roof, in the long, narrow building on the walking mall in Helena.
Dronen described the namesake Parrot as nothing but delicious: “You’ve got fresh caramel and you’ve got pecans and it’s soft and chewy and crunchy all at the same time.”
The Parrot offered a variety of flavors and sweet treats. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate and hard candies; but each piece has one thing in common.
“There’s not a lot of products that that you see that are made by hand anymore,” Dronen explained. “Each piece of candy is unique, it has its own shape, its own mark.”
The store goes through roughly ten tons of chocolate a year to create the candies sold on the shelves. Dronen said that number is a testament to just how popular the candies are with customers.
When a customer comes into the store, Dronen said their expressions make all the work worth it: “Just to see that smile on someone’s face, it’s awesome.”
Current owner Jonny Plichta took over operations January 1, 2017 and explained that he didn’t fully understand the prominence The Parrot plays in the community.
“I knew it was popular, but I didn’t know how people come in every day and somebody tells me how much they love The Parrot and ‘don’t change anything,’ which I am not,” Plichta happily exclaimed.
Dronen described the customer base as loyal; “The older folks are awesome because this is their town, this was their place to hang out when they were in high school. If you look around [at] the tables and the benches, they come and look for their initials.”
The employees - from the dippers in the back, to Plichta directing the show to the workers in the front, greeting each customer and helping them pick the best piece of candy - each one loves their job.
“Candy dipping is kind of like an art. It’s been fun, the people are amazing,” Dronen explained, who has worked at The Parrot for 12 years.
It’s easy to see why working in a candy store is sweet as can be. “I’m working has hard as I can to continue providing the people, the folks, with handmade, hand cut, amazing chocolate and candies,” Plichta said.
While The Parrot is located in Helena, anyone in Montana and beyond the border can enjoy the sweet offerings. You can place orders online and Plichta said they will ship to you anywhere.
In fact, “We’ve shipped to France, Belgium, other places in Europe,” he said.