KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Russell Stover may be the namesake for the Kansas City, Missouri-based chocolate company, but his wife, Clara, played a big role in the company’s success.
Christi Jones, the direct to consumer program manager for Russell Stover Chocolates, helped 41 Action News trace Clara’s role in creating the company.
“Not only was Clara the founder, but she was a pioneer more than just in the chocolate business,” Jones pointed out.
She explained Clara and Russell met in Iowa City, Iowa, in the early 1900s. Russell was a candy salesman. Clara dreamed of opening her own candy store. She spent years tinkering with her recipes in their kitchens as the Stovers moved from city to city for Russell’s jobs.
In 1923, the couple landed in Denver and decided to turn their home into a candy shop named “Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies.”
Yes, the original candy store was named after Clara. In 1943, they changed the name to “Russell Stover Chocolates.”
“People really really liked them [the chocolates] right out the gate,” Jones said, noting marshmallow center chocolates was an early recipe that is just as popular today.
Within one year, Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies expanded to Kansas City and Nebraska.
In 1928, the company opened a factory in Kansas City and eventually relocated the headquarters to Kansas City in 1932.
By 1954 the company was making 11 million pounds of candy per year, up from 20,000 pounds its second year. In 2020, the company produced roughly 60 million pounds of chocolate.
A specialty line of chocolates named after Clara continued into the 1990s and a sub-brand of storefronts with her name opened in malls around Kansas City as late as the 1970s.
Today, every box of Russell Stover Chocolates pays homage to Clara. The copper-colored trim is a tribute to the copper pots she used when creating her original recipes.
“We still use copper kettles, although bigger ones, in our candy kitchens today,” Jones said.
Clara served as vice president of the company until 1954 when Russell died and she became president. She sold the company in 1960. Swiss-based Lindt & Sprüngli currently owns the brand.
Before her death in 1975, Clara served on the boards of various education, healthcare and business organizations. She made donations to hospitals and universities.
The people who continue to work in the company’s Kansas City headquarters, like Jones, find a lot of motivation from Clara.
“A lot of people in this building really take a lot of inspiration from Clara. Her work ethic was fantastic, her ingenuity, her perseverance,” Jones pointed out.
A woman from an Iowa farm stuck to her dreams and delivered the sweet taste of life to so many.