SPRINGDALE — A little over five years ago, Dave and Kim Watts, as people tend to do when they’re in the middle of their careers, started thinking about their retirement “someday.”
And since both of them are mechanical engineers, they thought about it like engineers.
What would it look like? What would they do? Where would they do it? How would they make it work?
The first step, they decided, was that every year for their vacation they would visit an area of the country they thought might be a great place to retire. They gave themselves 10 years to scope out the country.
Their first trip was to Oregon, where in a little town along the Columbia River Gorge they came across an ice cream parlor that had just been sold. That got them to thinking: running an ice cream shop might be a nice way to ease into the golden years.
For their next trip they chose Utah. This was in the fall of 2013. In advance of flying into Salt Lake City they Googled “businesses for sale” and up popped — you guessed it — an ice cream and candy shop.
The ad said the store was located right next to Zion National Park. So close you could hit it with a gumball.
Dave and Kim were skeptical. That sounded too good to be true. But what could it hurt to check it out? They called the owner and made arrangements to meet at the store the first day of their vacation.
They drove from Salt Lake City along the I-15 freeway to the Zion turnoff, then made their way the 50 miles toward the park.
In the town of Springdale, a stone’s throw from the park entrance, in the shadow of the Watchman Spire, next to the laundromat on Zion Park Boulevard, there it was: the Springdale Candy Company.
Precisely as advertised.
The owner was eager to sell; he was in his 70s and wanted to retire for real.
Dave and Kim suddenly had a quandary on their hands. They had good-paying jobs as engineers back home in the Midwest. But they worked long hours with long commutes. Each morning he would head off to work 40 miles in one direction while she would drive 60 miles in the other direction. After 12-hour days they barely saw each other. Here was a golden opportunity to drastically cut their commute times and spend more time together.
And they could work in a place where, as Dave puts it, “I’d look forward to taking out the trash.”
So they went for it. Made the move. They flew back home, turned in their notices and bought the Springdale Candy Company.
That was in 2014. In the years since, they have learned how to make chocolates and ice cream — and discovered it’s not all that different from designing circuit boards.
“The recipes are technical, but just follow the process,” says Kim.
In the wintertime, chocolate keeps them afloat; in the summer it’s ice cream. They also do catering for weddings and supply candy and chocolates to some of the local hotels.
They bought a house in Virgin, 13 miles away, and a Jeep for the easy and scenic 15-minute commute.
They have no regrets.
“People always say, ‘Get a job you enjoy and you won’t work a day in your life,’ says Dave. “Well, it’s true.”Comment on this story
“There’s just not the stress,” adds Kim. “Everyone’s happy when they come in here. The only people close to unhappy are the kids when their parents tell them they can only get one thing and they come up to the counter with three.
“And the office view is amazing.”
As for the business? How’s that going? Well, consider that the year they first opened Zion got 2.4 million visitors.
This past year, Zion got 4.5 million visitors.
Coincidence? Probably. But Kim and Dave like to think they’ve helped sweeten things up, too.