Small Business Spotlight: Kilwins

Kilwins is where people celebrate, says Kristen Hernandez, and she should know.

Hernandez and her husband, Luis, own several Triangle locations of the gourmet ice cream and confectionary shop. In 2007, they opened their Cary store and have since added locations in Morrisville and Raleigh. The couple also own a store in Asheville, N.C.

Handmade chocolates, fudge and caramels tempt patrons at the Morrisville Kilwins.

Among Kilwins specialties is the creamy Mackinac Island fudge, made on-site with premium ingredients from recipes developed by Don and Katy Kilwin, who founded the franchise in 1947. Besides the classic chocolate, Hernandez says the top-selling flavors are turtle, with pecans and caramel, and the vanilla-based Mud Fudge, with chocolate chunks and caramel.

“Fudge is a holiday tradition, but we sell our homemade fudge every day, making every day a holiday at Kilwins,” she said.

Hernandez recently reflected on the ups and downs of being a small business owner. Her remarks were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Kristen and Luis Hernandez visited Kilwins with their children, and they now own and operate three locations of the confection franchise in the Triangle.

What attracted you to the franchise?

For many years, my family visited the beautiful North Carolina vacation spots Blowing Rock and Wilmington. In those cities, we regularly visited Kilwins with our three girls to enjoy Kilwins original recipe ice cream, chocolates and freshly made confectionery items.

Every time we entered Kilwins, your senses went into overload with smells of freshly made waffle cones, fudge or caramel being made in the kitchen. Those smells always make you smile. I wanted to bring this experience back to the Triangle and most importantly wanted to create jobs in our community.

Kilwins has an excellent franchise concept where it provides the operational and marketing support, recipes and ongoing training to ensure we have the tools to make us a successful community business.

Caramel apples, dipped in a variety of coatings, are popular year-round.

What’s been the best aspect of owning a business?

The best thing about owning your own business is being a part of the community and helping people. Our team members are extremely important to us, and our core values are to “treat others as you want to be treated, always do your best, and have fun!”

The smiles and happy faces we receive from our customers after they enjoy our original recipe ice cream, handmade chocolates, fudge or caramels make all our hard work worthwhile.

To hear from a customer, “Our Christmas stockings are not finished unless there is a treat from Kilwins in them,” is such an honor. Knowing that we can bring a little happiness to people during these difficult times brings joy and peace to our days.

Demonstrating the proper technique, Kilwins employee Andrea Donar dips a marshmallow in chocolate. 

How do you give back to the community?

Another part of our success is partnering with the local community and charitable opportunities to provide both tangible and intangible gifts. Our core purpose and values define and guide our daily behavior and practices. It is this culture that brings our core values to life each day, extended to our customers and local community.

We believe in education and the growth of our children, so we partner closely with many local schools, churches and educational facilities in the Triangle area.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for any small business, and we are no exception.

There is no question there are many challenges in owning a business: financial implications, maintenance of equipment, seasonal changes and COVID-19. Our revenues fell 60% in the first month of the pandemic, and it was difficult to cover payroll in March, April and May. However, I decided early in the pandemic, along with my husband, to keep the stores open and maintain most of our full-time employees who could still work.

The measures we took to protect our customers’ and employees’ health and wellbeing were especially important to us. We upgraded our stores with Plexiglas on all counter areas, increased the cleaning of all surfaces, provided hand-sanitizing stations, and supplied masks and gloves to every employee. We also provided takeout services for our customers and delivery to their cars.

These extra efforts allowed us to stay open during these unprecedented times, and with the help of our customers, we have been able to steadily see an increase in revenue.

We do not know what is going to happen in the future, but with good planning, the support of our community, our loyal customers and amazing team members, we can weather the storm and keep all four of our Kilwins stores open.

It has been very tough, but knowing that people come to Kilwins to make their day a little brighter with our smiles and products is worth it!

2004 Boulderstone Way, Cary
(919) 463-9360

3308 Village Market Place, Morrisville
(919) 377-2245

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