Michelle Diaz and her employees at Apples Etc. often get calls from customers who are clearly a little confused.
“People will call us and say, ‘Yeah, I’m calling because my iPad’s broken,’ ” Diaz says. “I’m like, ‘This is the wrong Apple store.’ ”
The innovation at this Apple shop does not involve screens or tech of any kind. Instead, it is focused on creating gourmet candy apples topped with Belgian chocolate and a variety of decadent ingredients from fudge to marshmallows to peanut butter and much more. In addition, the shop specializes in a creation Diaz calls stuffed apples. For these eye-catching treats, a hollowed-out apple “shell” serves as the vessel for flavors such as cheesecake and cannoli — cannoli cream fills the apple with cannoli shells on top, and it all combines in a rich feast.
Diaz started the company in a way that would make a Silicon Valley startup proud. Pregnant with her second son, she began making apples in her home kitchen. “It really wasn’t supposed to be anything,” she says. “It was something to do.”
She saw candy apples at a chain store and was intrigued by the concept, as she had never seen it outside of a fair. Diaz’s mother worked in restaurants and her grandmother was a baker, and Diaz had culinary talents that she would soon put to use with her new hobby. She played around with the recipes, got better at making them and started selling them to friends. One of these friends owned a pizzeria in Branford and rented her space in his commercial kitchen.
Diaz and her partner formed an LLC and began selling their products to stores. A few years later, however, Diaz’s friend sold, and they needed a new kitchen space. Diaz never planned on having a storefront, but the Jefferson Road location where her store currently sits caught her eye. She talked with the owners and, inspired by her passion as a new small business owner, they agreed to give her a break on rent. Even still, raising the funds to open a brick-and-mortar store wasn’t easy.
“We called on some family members and begged, borrowed and stole,” Diaz says.
The store opened in early 2014. The first two years in business were difficult. “Nobody was coming in,” Diaz says.
Without money to pay for marketing, Diaz needed to work to attract customers. “I started perfecting the products, really coming out and being creative with flavors and themed apples for holidays, and all of our business became word of mouth,” she says.
More people started coming and the business began to thrive. It picked up further at the beginning of this year, when Diaz had the idea of creating stuffed apples. The goodie-filled apples have become one of the shop’s best-sellers, and Diaz has plenty of ideas for the future.
This summer she is launching a line of drink-inspired apples. The first in the series is the piña colada, a coconut and chocolate apple that is bright and refreshing and designed to be a summer dessert.
All the specialty apples at the store range in price from $8 to $14, and each one sampled on a recent visit lived up to the company’s motto: “Sweet to the Core.”
Beyond the apples, the store also offers frozen bananas, flavored popcorn and stuffed Oreos (the cookie dough-stuffed Oreo was a favorite of mine).
Diaz and her team frequently provide apples for weddings, bridal showers and other events, and can do customized flavors and designs. The store also ships products nationally and internationally, but if you happen to be in the Branford area, walk-ins are still welcome. However you get them, just remember: One of these apples a day won’t necessarily keep the doctor away.