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Kenmore institution King Condrell's gets fresh look with a nod to its past

For a couple of generations, people with a sweet tooth in Kenmore have flocked to a candy and ice cream shop in the heart of the village.

Founded as Condrell's Candies in 1968, the shop now known as King Condrell's is lauded for chocolate made by hand from high-quality ingredients and for sundaes boasting unusual combinations and generous portions.

[Gallery: Newly renovated King Condrell's]

Richard and Melissa King didn't want to change too much when they bought the shop on Delaware Avenue 21 years ago. But this year, they were ready to put more of their own stamp on it. So they're investing in a floor-to-ceiling renovation, one that draws out its heritage as an old-fashioned soda fountain and chocolate shop.

Like any homeowner knows, renovation projects often come with surprises. The Kings removed one dropped ceiling, then found a second dropped ceiling above it and a third dropped ceiling above that before getting to the main ceiling.

Now there's a new black tin ceiling that looks old-fashioned in the shop. Wallpaper was removed and tile was replaced. Nostalgic ice-cream themed photos were purchased off eBay to hang there.

The Kings closed the shop for the month of January while the renovations were going on. Now they're putting the finishing touches on the work, which they'll unveil on Sunday during a grand opening party for their customers.

"I believe that customer service has gone away in a lot of places," Richard King said, taking a break from last-minute preparations. "When they come through here, they're family."

Owners Melissa and Rich King, with manager Karen Nowak, right, at King Condrell's Candy & Ice Cream in Kenmore. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

But the interior work is the just the start for the Kings.

Richard King, who makes all of his chocolate, plans this spring to start making his own ice cream for the first time.

The Kings also want to make some changes to the exterior of the store, including adding outdoor seating and benches, shaped like sundaes. One bench would have a buffalo sitting on it, holding a sundae, that would be tailor-made for people to take pictures with.

And, after 21 years, the Kings plan to finally replace the Condrell's Candies sign with a King Condrell's sign.

"We're slowly letting them know," Melissa King said of the official name of the shop, which is on the menu but not on the lips of most in Ken-Ton.

Nicholas and Mary Condrell founded the candy shop and ice cream parlor that still bears their name nearly 50 years ago. The couple had previously operated the Garden of Sweets on Bailey Avenue and carried over a tradition of naming sundaes after nearby high schools, which continues at King Condrell's to this day.

Nicholas and Mary Condrell ran the store until 1978. It was known then and now for its old-time charm and for the care the employees put into making the candy and the sundaes.

The Kings bought the store in 1996. They had operated King Kandy at the Walden Galleria, and later at the Boulevard Mall, and were looking for another business opportunity. But, they said, as West Seneca residents they didn't realize the hold that Condrell's had over the Kenmore community before they bought it.

Eventually, they closed the other candy stores to focus on Condrell's. Richard King has a background in heating and air conditioning but taught himself how to make chocolate. He relies on the recipes from Condrell's and from Drescher's, a candy shop of even earlier vintage, and on top-of-the-line ingredients.

Popular sellers are sponge candy, of course, the melt-away fudge and an item known as buffalo chips, which are potato chips coated with a thin layer of peanut butter, covered completely with chocolate and then dusted with cracked pepper and sea salt.

"He loves to come up with new things," Melissa King said of her husband.

The sundaes include the "fudgana" – scoops of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, slices of banana, whipped cream and walnuts – and the "kitchen sink," a 16-scoop monstrosity.

The Kings clearly have fun at their jobs, but selling chocolate rabbits and hot fudge sundaes comes with long work hours in a competitive industry. Just in the surrounding blocks, customers can choose from Dairy Queen, Anderson's Frozen Custard, Hanna's Frosty Treats and Watson's Chocolates.

King Condrell's is open up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. There are only two full-time employees, Richard King and manager Karen Nowak, with as many as 12 part-time employees in the summertime.

"He's here. That matters to people. The true mom-and-pop-shop. We're here. We are working," said Melissa King, who said she cut back her hours after she was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF, that requires her to rely on around-the-clock oxygen therapy.

The Kings' children, Adriana, 21, and Zachary, 18, have helped around the shop, and Richard King is a tough boss. When Adriana, now a University at Buffalo student, was 15 and on her first day at the store, he told her to clean the toilet.

"Nobody's going to respect you unless you start at the bottom and work your way up," Richard King said.

The Kings made some improvements to the shop, such as installing a new candy display case about seven years ago, but they held off on wholesale changes. They decided late last year the time was right to make a significant investment. The renovations cost about $95,000.

They closed the store Dec. 31 and didn't reopen until Feb. 3. While the store was closed, they added a new floor, with a black-and-white, hexagon pattern. They started removing the dropped ceilings and didn't stop until they got to the main ceiling.

Melissa King said the wallpaper need to go. The "pondscape" green on the walls coordinates with the burgundy at the base of the candy display case and the ice cream counter and on the legs and backs of the chairs. They also added a black-and-white subway tile backsplash along the sides of the room. A giant mirror along the north side of the store has the shop's logo imprinted on it, and names of featured items are written in cursive and attached to the wall beneath it.

Richard King plans to hang the pictures he's collected on the walls on Saturday night, just before the party the store is throwing on Sunday to celebrate its grand reopening. Melissa King said her husband collects candy- and ice cream-themed pictures on eBay when he has trouble sleeping. One is a blown-up image of the golden ticket from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," and another is a black-and-white picture of Andy Rooney and Judy Garland drinking from two straws out of the same glass.

For Sunday's party, the Kings will feature some items they typically sell only on special occasions, such as their chocolate-covered fruit, and they'll be offering a new red-velvet hot fudge topping and a sponge candy sundae.

The event runs from noon to 3 p.m. at the shop at 2805 Delaware Ave. and includes free samples, raffles and giveaways. The food is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other merchants in Kenmore welcome the improvements the Kings are making.

James Walaski-Miller, who owns Miss Josie's, an antique and vintage store located across the street, said the Kings are good neighbors. He said, during the month King Condrell's was closed, a steady stream of the Kings' loyal customers came into his shop concerned the store would not reopen.

"There's got to be something special about their banana split," Walaski-Miller said. "Because at least 10 people said, 'Where can I get my banana split?' "

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