When one door closes another one opens, and nobody knows that better than the Schultz family at Owatonna’s famous Costas Candies and Restaurant.
Though the decision was years in the making, the owners of the 101-year-old downtown business announced Tuesday that they will permanently close the restaurant. Despite the heartache for their regular breakfast and lunch crowds, and sad goodbyes to the longtime wait staff, the owners are excited for the opportunity to expand in an area in which they excel: candies and chocolates.
“This is not because of the pandemic, this is not a financial thing,” said Grant Schultz, co-owner of Costas. “By no means are we giving up on Owatonna.”
According to the owners, the discussion about expanding the candy operation has been ongoing for the last five years, weighing different options on how any number of changes might look. Co-owner Julie Schultz said that over the last couple of years, it has been difficult to keep up with the demand for its sweets during holidays and special occasions, largely because there’s little room or capacity to make and store additional chocolate.
Options that owners had debated included moving both businesses out of downtown to a bigger location, keeping the restaurant in the downtown spot and finding a second building to house the candy operation. But ultimately they decided to close the restaurant and remodel the building to be one-third candy retail and two-thirds candy manufacturing.
“This was just a unique opportunity that we didn’t see coming, but that really gave us a chance to see what we want,” Julie said, of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our candy sales the last two months have caused us to see that we really can make it on just candy.”
Though the business is strong, Grant admitted that the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 helped make the decision to close the restaurant. Currently, restaurants can only operate with outdoor seating, which the Costas building can not accommodate.
“Who knows when that is going to end,” Grant said. “And even when they do let us have indoor dining again, we’d only be able to use a maximum of half our tables.”
Greg Schultz, a business partner, said that the COVID-19 pandemic provides an open window to complete the remodel of the building with the least amount of inconvenience to the customers and that Costas will continue to remain a downtown Owatonna staple.
“This is a good and positive thing,” Greg said. “We’re investing in Owatonna and this is going to help make us better.”
The building was last remodeled in 1970.
Brad Meier, Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president, said that though he’s sad to see the removal of the lunch counter, he’s confident about the next chapter for the business.
“They’re looking at their model for their business and evolving it for what works best for them and what works best for their customers,” Meier said. “All in all I believe this will be a really positive move for them. Costas is definitely part of the fabric of our community and part of our identity here. When people come from out of town or are new to our area, everyone tells them they have to try Costas Candies.”
The Owatonna community has yet to see a business go under due to the impacts of COVID-19, and Meier said that it’s reassuring to know that this decision wasn’t due to uncontrolled circumstances.
“Things like this may in the end be the silver lining to this whole crisis that we’re dealing with,” Meier said.
The owners said that the next phase for Costas will involve a lot of planning, but that they anticipate making several other announcements regarding the upcoming changes on its social media soon. Julie even hinted that the possibility of new candies may finally be a reality for the company, though she said that everyone will just have to wait and see.
“We are really excited about moving forward into our future with candy,” Julie said. “After all, chocolate is everyone’s therapy.”