Like many of us, Susie Riskind Thompson was born with a healthy sweet tooth. When she was growing up in Highland Park, she would often go out to fine restaurants with her parents and grandparents and while the appetizers and entrees were top notch, it was the desserts that caught her attention.
“I’ve always been obsessed with food, and I grew up in a real food family. I loved going out to eat,” she says. “We would really just celebrate as a family and eat together, and I always loved dessert, as every child does.”
After attending the University of Arizona and working as a reporter for a time in Colorado, Riskind Thompson returned to Chicago to work for a public relations firm,
“I’m kind of a people person and a friend of mine suggested I should try public relations, so I applied for a job, and I got it,” she says. “My first clients were Potbelly and Le Colonial, which is a restaurant in the city.” Having been “thrown” into restaurant PR, Riskind Thompson eventually opened her own firm representing some of the best restaurants in the city and on the North Shore, including Miramar in Highwood. Her largest client was the Shaw’s Crab House division of the Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant Group.
But after 15 years and having two sons, she experienced some burnout and decided to take a few years off to raise her young children. Then, as often happens in life, she— somewhat serendipitously—embarked on an entirely new career.
“We were in the city for 23 years and we moved to Wilmette last year, which I love,” she says. “My brother lives in Florida and his neighbor puts together these candy boxes and he and my sister-in-law called me and told me I should check them out. They said it might be a cool thing to do on the North Shore.”
Soon Riskind Thompson had a new friend in Florida, and a mentor. With the specter of COVID-19 clouding the air, she thought it would be interesting to create colorful collections of gummies for special occasions. She wanted to spread a little happiness.
“I started ordering different candy and kind of putting together these boxes just to practice. The family of a child in my son’s class was very affected by COVID-19 and people started making meals for them,” she says. “I signed up to give them dinner and then I gave them my first box because I wanted them to smile, and I wanted to bring a little joy into their house.”
Soon the business began to take off. Another mom asked her if she would make her daughter’s birthday party favors. Then someone saw that and they wanted her to do a container for them. Then a larger birthday party, and another.
“It really has just organically grown and I’m so busy and it’s turned into a full-fledged business, almost all through social media, through Instagram,” Riskind Thompson says. “That’s really my main outlet and word-of-mouth and obviously being in the PR business I know a lot of people and they have been so supportive.”
Susie’s Sugar Buzz offers a variety of candy collections that are cleverly packaged and range in price from $7 to $90. There are tackle boxes, charcuterie boards, and what are called, “Road Trip Strips.” Many of her collections are personalized with individuals’ names, and most of her orders are customized. She sources her gummies from around the country and Europe.
“It’s kind of like putting together pieces and making things look really cool and appealing and tasting great,” she says. “These are serous gummies. In the variety pack I go for different textures and tastes, sweet, sour, marshmallow.”
Riskind Thompson says she has a ton of repeat customers, and over time they’ve honed their tastes and she can tailor her collections to suit them.
“They might not like sours, or they only want red if they’re doing a charcuterie board,” she says. “They want their college colors, or they want something really girly. I do custom all the time.”
With so many colors to choose from, her collections are easily adaptable for holidays. Upcoming holidays—Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter—all offer opportunities for Riskind Thompson to display her creative flair.
“I put everything together myself and I feel like it’s taken over a lot of our house,” she says “There’s officially a candy room in our house. My husband is very tolerant.”
Then there’s the kids, and their growing network of friends who are learning that Wilmette has its own version of, well, Charlie and the Gummy Factory. The upside is that Riskind Thompson puts them to work as taste-testers.
“My kids’ friends come over and they all want to check out the candy room. My kids have a three-piece limit a day and they’ll taste test things for me and tell me if they like them,” she says. “I always ask them their opinion because they’re honest and I feel like they’ve got good ideas.”
For more visit susiessugarbuzz.com or follow @susiessugarbuzz on Instagram.