With a charming empire along the north coast, it may come as a surprise that Jeff Schwietert never had business in mind for his future. The local entrepreneur built his legacy solely because it was the right thing to do. A unique revelation that sets it apart from the competition, even today. The inspiration was simple, but powerful.
Since 1985 Schwietert’s Cones and Candy is best known for an atmosphere of fun. You have been enticed inside by the smell of fudge and taffy, and the brightly lit rows of candy. But there’s something even more. An excellence in the details that streams down from the very desk of CEO Jeff Schwietert.
For Jeff, it’s only natural. The entrepreneur in him loves the work. “The nuts and bolts, building things,” he says. “The idea of legacy stems from all that, and there’s an eternal benefit out of it.”
He wasn’t always a boss. Fully inheriting the business from his parents in 2012, he only entered the leadership role after a lifetime of humble grunt work. He was only two-years-old when his parents, Wayne and Barbara, set out for the sweet-life.
“My earliest memory is behind the counter,” Jeff recalls. “I literally slept there. It had a little area that they made up for me. I was there all the time. Helped my dad with things he was doing. He still jokes that I shoved tools into walls that he’ll never get back.”
With just one store in Cannon Beach, Wayne and Barbara were known as the “doers” of the community. It began as a hole in the wall on 2nd Street, but soon expanded into a full operation. His parents lived and breathed the business, pouring in everything they had.
“That’s what it takes,” explains Jeff. “It takes everything. As a dreamer, my dad had to keep growing for the next opportunity. I was raised with that mentality, to do better.”
Family is a main theme at Schwietert’s Cones and Candy. And it was that devotion to family that nudged Jeff to tackle the business when his time came. He went to college to major in business, and always knew the day was coming. His parents were getting older and finally, they asked the question. It equally excited and worried Jeff. Would he take over?
“Growing up, I wrestled with the thought,” admits Jeff. “I thought about walking a lot of different times, but it’s just not in me to walk away from something. I kept coming back. Couldn’t even think of doing anything else. It was definitely one of those things where I wasn’t sure. But I felt married to it. And you gotta stick through the good and bad when you’re married.”
Jeff was confident in his ability to not only survive, but thrive. It was a qualification earned through the economic recession of 2008. It hit Schwietert’s, leading to years of hardship. Everything was sacrificed to save the business. But it’s in our worst times that we learn the most.
“Not really going anywhere, just surviving, was the worst time,” Jeff remembers. “But I look back and see it as the best time. I learned a lot about myself, my own strength and perseverance. I realized no one I knew would go through that and stay with it. But I did. I hung on.”
Hard times didn’t last forever. By 2012, things turned a corner. Left in its wake was a history. A living history. It’s always been his real passion. It’s what Jeff calls, “the people aspect.”
A Sweet Future
“I’m not just dedicated to the company, but the people of the company,” he states with passion. “I love being able to mentor people, to see something in them and refine it. I’ve left a part of myself with them and they’ve learned something too. That’s really my heart. I’m good at it and I enjoy bringing people onto the ride with me.”
Every year, Schwietert’s Cones and Candy employs a number of “lifers.” Jeff maintains the loyalty of these “lifers” through a signature approach. He believes that the secret to keeping good employees is a balance of respect and fun. To provide a place that they can believe in and succeed at their job.
Jeff’s vision for the future? A brand new location in Astoria. He plans on taking growth carefully though. He has become a typecast in the community as the one taking things on. While it’s true that he’s always taking the next challenge, there’s really nothing left for him to prove, except to give back. Risk creates opportunity, but stability lays the foundation for paying it forward. And this is Jeff’s primary focus of late, to stabilize the company to get to a place where he can be more available to coach you and aspiring business owners.
“Don’t do it,” Jeff advises. “The world needs more entrepreneurs, but only do it if you’re willing to sacrifice everything. Don’t do it if you’re not. It’ll be half-hearted and fail. Why do 90 percent of new business fail in their first year? Because there’s no passion behind it. People often don’t have the legs. Be willing to give everything.”
If you are determined to venture out into business, Jeff hopes you can learn from his most valuable lesson that his dad once taught him. “Know when to kill an idea,” he says. “When something isn’t working, change gears. Keep moving, switch things up, and you’ll be unstoppable.”
33 years later, it’s obvious that worked for Schwietert’s Cones and Candy. Well, that and a spoonful of sugar.