As you walk down the street in Rhinebeck, New York, a cute and quirky-looking red-doored store may just catch your eye. It’s Samuel’s Sweet Shop – and it’s a popular haunt for the whole neighborhood with the tasty, nostalgic treats lining its shelves. Not too long ago, though, this beloved place nearly suffered a heartbreaking fate. Luckily, Paul Rudd and a few of his super-famous friends stepped in to save the day. And you’ll be amazed at what they did!
So whereabouts in Rhinebeck can you find this wonderfully quaint candy shop? Is it easy to spot? It’s pretty close to East Market Street, sandwiched in the middle of a CVS Pharmacy and a clothes store. And as we’ve already hinted, Samuel’s isn’t the biggest of locales in the village.
Yes, Samuel’s is roughly 400-square-feet in size, boasting just one floor. But here’s the thing – it makes full use of the relatively small space. Because as soon as customers walk through that red door, they’re greeted by packed shelves covered in candy, with even more treats behind the counter.
Samuel’s really does feel like an old-fashioned candy store from the past, and that’s arguably one of its greatest strengths. Nostalgia can entice anyone. Yet it’d be unfair to say that customers are only drawn in by the shop’s uniquely quirky aesthetic. Because the products on offer are pretty good too.
You can sink your teeth into mouth-watering creations such as the “Over the Top,” for instance. This beast more than lives up to its name, combining a couple of “unlocked” Oreos with a peanut butter cup from Reese’s. And if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is layered in chocolate as well. OTT indeed!
Samuel’s also sells “Clodhoppers” – an addictive mix that combines graham cracker, peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel. Is anyone else feeling hungry now? Plus the store offers cups of coffee if you fancy a beverage. So while that all sounds great, what do the customers actually think of the place?
Well, the online reviews are pretty strong, with the average rating on Yelp coming to four stars. It’s slightly higher on Tripadvisor, while the Samuel’s Facebook page houses some good reports too. But away from the internet, a very famous face lavished praise on the candy shop as well.
The celebrity in question was comedian Amy Schumer, and she shared her thoughts with the Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper in April 2019. The actress said, “I’m a Samuel’s customer. You feel like you’re walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.” That’s quite a comparison! But given what we’ve learned so far, it’s more than apt.
So how long have customers been feeling like they’ve won a golden ticket in Rhinebeck? To answer that question, we first need to go back to a key time in the founder’s life. You see, the inkling of an idea started to form in his mind during his childhood years.
The youngster’s name was Ira Gutner, and he often frequented Yankee Stadium with his dad and uncle to watch the New York Giants. Now as any sports fan will tell you, people can develop an unbreakable routine when following their team across a season. And Gutner was no different in that respect.
Yes, Gutner was a frequent visitor of Pot Roast Sadie’s whenever he went to see the Giants with his dad and uncle. It was a pretty diverse establishment, serving as both a delicatessen and a candy parlor. The youngster became infatuated with all sugary loveliness on display, which ultimately led to the founding of Samuel’s.
It didn’t happen immediately, though – after all, Gutner was still very young at the time. And even as he got older, the candy enthusiast seemed to be heading further away from his eventual destiny. Because he was firmly ensconced within the clothing sector in New York City during the early 1990s.
Yet everything changed in 1993. Because Gutner became acquainted with Rhinebeck for the first time. And while he was there, he had his eyes open for any kind of candy shop in the community. Unfortunately for the city worker, his search wasn’t successful – but the disappointing results weren’t in vain.
Because Gutner saw an opportunity to capitalize on this gap in the market, ahead of a significant moment in April 1994. Yes, he finally opened Samuel’s Sweet Shop. Quite a journey right? And you might be wondering if the founder looked after everything himself once the store got going in Rhinebeck.
Well, some 14 years on from the grand-opening, Gutner was on the look-out for an assistant to run the parlor. And in the end he recruited an economics graduate named John Traver. The pair were already familiar with each other, as Traver previously held a job at Samuel’s as a teenager.
Traver and Gutner formed a wonderful bond during that initial spell, ultimately leading to their business partnership in 2008. And from there everything appeared to be heading in a positive direction – the founder was devoting more time to “client relations” as his manager watched the shop. But that sense of stability was soon shattered.
What happened? Well, as Samuel’s was approaching its 20th year in business, Gutner suffered a fatal heart attack at his house on April 4, 2014. Reflecting on that sad time, Traver spoke to The Groundhog website in April 2018, offering a glimpse of the reaction across the village. Unsurprisingly, everyone was hurting.
Traver told the website, “Obviously the community was heartbroken. I was heartbroken, and I was really scared.” In truth, his concern was more than justified – after all, what would happen to Samuel’s now? But as the store’s manager contemplated his future with the business, a famous face offered some intriguing words.
Now as we discovered earlier, Samuel’s has the power to attract celebrity patrons. Along with Amy Schumer, the likes of Hilarie Burton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Paul Rudd all frequented the candy store. The aforementioned trio even formed friendly bonds with the shop’s figureheads. So that might explain why Burton felt compelled to talk to Traver after Gutner’s death.
Traver told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “[Burton] came over to me and she said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t close the store, keep it open. We’re going to help you.’ I still get the chills talking about it.” The “we” in this instance wasn’t just a reference to Burton, Morgan and Rudd – the latter’s wife, Andy Ostroy and Phoebe Jonas were in there too.
“They told me they’d help and they would check in periodically to see how I was doing,” Traver continued. “And they told me they were working on it. But a lot of time passed between April and December. And there were a lot of sleepless nights where it was like, ‘What’s going to happen? Are they going to help me?’”
The uncertainty was palpable, despite the celebrities’ calming words. In the summer of 2014, Traver found it tough to get past his pessimism. He noted, “It hadn’t happened yet so you’re still kind of operating nervously – sales tax, rent, electric, phone, pay everybody.” But the breakthrough finally came that December.
Staying true to their word, Burton, Morgan, Jonas, Ostroy, Rudd and his wife Julie partnered up to buy Samuel’s Sweet Shop. And don’t worry about Traver – he was welcomed into the group too! That’s some team wouldn’t you say? The manager was understandably delighted, believing that they’d made the perfect match.
Traver told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “It was incredible. It was such a beautiful marriage of a person who knew how to operate the store, who has a long-time connection to the community, and these special people who are passionate about this, taking an interest.” Then again, it’s fair to say that they didn’t just take an interest.
Because Traver’s famous partners weren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up for their new business venture. Morgan, for instance, put his towering frame to good use when moving apparatus around the store. As for his wife Burton, she assisted in the fitting of a new floor. And Julie Rudd, meanwhile, is partly responsible for Samuel’s current logo.
Julie told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “When Ira passed away, like everyone else in town, we thought, ‘What’s going to happen to Samuel’s? We don’t want to lose Samuel’s.’ When the idea came [up] that maybe we should try to save it and keep it going, it wasn’t so much about the candy.”
“It was about, this is a meeting place in the community and a place that brings joy to the community and kids love to come, and we just really want to keep that going,” Julie continued. “The added bonus that we all found out is, ‘Oh, it’s really fun to own a candy store!’”
What about Julie’s famous husband, though? Was he doing anything around the store? You bet. Paul Rudd would sometimes work at the counter, handing out warm beverages to the patrons. Imagine giving a coffee order to Ant-Man! And the Hollywood star shared his views on Samuel’s with the Poughkeepsie Journal too.
Rudd said, “One of the most important things any human can experience is to be a part of a community. And [to] feel connected to where you live and to other people who live there, especially in a job like mine. I’m in lots of different locations meeting lots of different people.”
“At times, you can feel you’re untethered a little bit,” Rudd explained. “So to have this place, to come in and just serve coffee for a while and hang out at the store and hand out candies… To feel a part of the community makes us sane. It makes us feel part of something important.”
But while Rudd and company’s hearts appear to be in the right place, their position at Samuel’s Sweet Shop raises an intriguing question. Namely, does their presence overpower the place? Well, the best people to answer that are those who frequent the store on a regular basis, like Rhinebeck’s Ken Aldous.
On the subject of the famous figureheads, Aldous told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “I guess I’ve met a couple of them here from time to time. But I never really thought, ‘Oh wow, this is amazing, celebrities.’ I’ve only seen them be part of the woodwork here, which is nice.” So that’s a no!
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s see if Traver’s celebrity partners have any favorite products at the shop. In Morgan’s case, he’s loved the coffee at Samuel’s for quite a while, going back to his time as a regular customer. As for Rudd, he can’t get enough of a particular treat.
Rudd noted, “One of my very favorite candies is these Sour Patch Santas we get. That’s been a game-changer for me. [Traver] has even been able to secure some in June, so I have Christmas in June. Not everyone can get these sour Santas in the summer. This might be the best thing about being an owner of a candy shop.”
Speaking of which, you’ve probably got one more question to ask – “Why is the shop called Samuel’s?” Well, remember Ira Gutner’s uncle who we mentioned earlier? His name was Sam. And his nephew felt the urge to honor him by christening the candy store with his moniker. Nice touch!
So what’s been going on at the store recently? The Samuel’s Instagram page, which boasts over 26,000 followers, continues to share regular posts, including a New Year’s message at the turn of 2021. Plus you’ll find numerous images of the tasty candy still on offer at the shop.
As for the business’ plans for the future, Traver admitted back in 2018 that he’d love to open a few more Samuel’s stores outside Rhinebeck. Until that happens, though, he and his famous partners have had a clear brief in mind on how to run their current shop. And it all ties back to their thoughts on the community.
Traver told The Groundhog, “Every town has multiple coffee shops, not every town has a candy store. We really believe in the local movement. We hire local people, local youth. A mission of ours is for the store to be a trophy case for as many local talents and artisans as possible.”
For that reason, we get the feeling that Samuel’s will still be a mainstay for years to come. The shop’s most recent landmark, its 25th anniversary in 2019, shouldn’t be the last. And Traver made a poignant comment heading into that milestone during his chat with the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Traver told the paper, “At the ten-year anniversary I was in high school, it was neat. At the 20-year anniversary, it was a little scary and unsettling – and comforting when people would check in to see that you’re okay. This is the first time I’m really excited to celebrate this, this business.” We’re sure Gutner would be proud.