Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Queen Supreme: The Candle Kitchen and Tunnel Tour with Leavenworth's Candle Queen

It began innocently enough with one of those Facebook fan page contests. Share and tag 2 friends who would like to do this and you could win a tour through the candle kitchen and tunnel! Jackie, my neighbor and frequent sidekick for adventures around here, tagged me and that's how it popped up in my newsfeed. I have no idea what a tunnel tour is, I thought, but it sounds like fun. However, I never win those things so that was the extent of my thoughts about it before moving on to something a little more laundry.

A few days later, Jackie texted me. Hey, what are you doing Saturday afternoon? Want to tour the candle kitchen with me? I was more excited about winning something vicariously through her than the actual tour but sure, why not? I like candles. And tunnels. And because Candle Queen Candles didn't participate in the charm hunt this year, it was one of the downtown stores I had not yet visited. After a morning of perusing the post-wide yard sale (where I accepted my Mom of the Year award for scoring a boatload of Hot Wheels cars for only $2.50), Jackie and I headed down to the shop at 500 Shawnee Street in downtown Leavenworth.

We had no trouble finding free, on-street parking right across the street, as it's not quite on the main drag. The Candle Queen's curb appeal, with her sweet, pink ride and spray-painted invitation to sparkle & shine (but of course, is there any other way?) literally sets the tone for the entire experience. The Candle Queen (AKA Stacy McCowen) is everything that's wonderful about being a girl. Her sense of style, sense of humor and southern hospitality (I'm not sure if she's from the south but she would fit right in) create an oasis for all who enter, but especially for frazzled moms who are taking their own time-out (we call this Mommy Time in our house and it's as sacred as the Sabbath).

We arrived a few minutes early, so there was time to shop before the tour began. We may have planned it that way. The shop is stocked with beautiful clothing, hand-crafted jewelry, unique home decor and, of course, candles!
This shirt says "I may not be Wonderwoman, but I will do things that make you wonder." Fabulous. 
The "melters" are Stacy's hottest sellers and the focus of our kitchen tour. 
When we signed in at the counter for the tour, we were offered a free Candle Queen cup for "checking in" on the Facebook page
And done!
Stacy called the group together and lead us into the first room, behind the scenes and, quite literally, behind the curtain. She explained that this was her prepping and packaging area, where flats of Mason jars are opened and readied for candles and products are boxed with bows, ready to ship. This part is a family affair and her kids are paid 50 cents per box of Mason jars to open and prep them. I'm fairly certain my son would much prefer this task to many of the things I ask him to do around the house! 
The next room is usually for storage, Stacy explained, but it had been cleaned out and spruced up just for the kitchen tours that weekend (one on Saturday and one on Sunday). It was transformed into a tasting room, complete with dips from The Set Table (she was at the Spouse Super Sign-Up and her spices and dips can be found on Etsy with local pick-up) , as well as margaritas and fruit-infused water. Yes, I know...I had you at margaritas. Me too. Call me crazy but a little tequila makes everything better. But also...water. Because Kansas humidity is no joke. 
It was around this time when we realized that the cups change color when something cold is poured into them. This is the second time I've encountered color-changing cups in Kansas and it's far more entertaining to me than it probably should be. This is also the moment when we noticed there were more margaritas than people. So, as women who hate to see good cocktails go to waste, we drank those, too.

Then Stacy brought us into the main hub of the production, where the wax is cooled and huge sheets of melters are cut and packaged. Mason jars filled with various oils were scattered around and one labeled Fabulouso caught someone's eye.

"Is that..."
"YES!" Stacy confirmed. "The scent of Fabulouso!" 

OK, this is what I get for being all crunchy granola and cleaning with a spray bottle of distilled vinegar. My house smells like...well...distilled vinegar. Apparently, it could smell like a field of lavender. But I had never heard of Fabulouso, which is a cleaning product used almost exclusively by pretty much everyone in Mexico. It has, therefore, become the unofficial smell of Mexico and evokes sun-soaked memories for anyone who has vacationed on their shores. But chances are, even if you have simply eaten in a Mexican restaurant around closing time, you've smelled this stuff. I really need to eat more Mexican food. Stacy now has an oil that smells exactly like Fabulouso and she'll be incorporating it into candles and melts sometime soon. So now, as Jackie pointed out, your house can smell clean, even when it's not actually clean. I'm claiming this as a win for moms everywhere.

One of the highlights of the kitchen tour was Stacy's offer to take home a baggie of melts for free. She had 4 trays of melts to choose from and, not wanting to be greedy since we had already finished off the margaritas, we only took a couple of cubes from each tray. But Stacy invited us to fill the bags. She really is the hostess with the mostess.

I can tell you that the Vanilla Pumpkin melt knocked that Infantry Barracks smell right out of my kitchen. Built in 1903 but smells like a Pumpkin Spice Latte, all day everyday. Stacy's wax contains a higher concentration of scented oil than most store-bought candles and melts. I've never really understood how the melts work, although I've been using a burner instead of candles since the day our son started walking. The wax never goes away, but the oil burns off. With more oil in the wax, it takes longer which means each cube can be used for longer. However, as Stacy explained, when the oil has burned off completely, throw the wax out or it will begin to take on a stench of its own...not something you want, regardless of how many boys live in your house.
Stacy, a fellow Army Wife with 22 years of Army life under her rhinestone belt, retired to Leavenworth with her husband, who is her shop "project manager". She is Mom to 4 amazing kids, one of which is severely handicapped and that lead her to create a home-based business. She tells a brilliant story about her first craft fair and how she came to be the Candle Queen. You can read her story under the About Us tab on the website, but it's far more amusing to hear Stacy tell it!

With melts in our pockets and margaritas in our tummies, it was time to go underground.
There are Christmas lights and pastel-painted stairs. It can't be that scary, right? 
Um...yeah...OK. Never mind. There are bodies in the basement... least margarita-loving mannequins. That Jackie, such a giver. 
Stacy has very limited history on the tunnel under her shop because, to be quite honest, there isn't much to be found about it. Originally built as a saloon in 1858, it has seen many changes over the years. And, to Stacy's credit, much of that history can still be found in the rooms that jut off to the left of the main walkway. A newspaper dating back to 1912 is still stapled to one wall and a few wood planks from the Chase Candy Company in St. Joseph, MO can be found in the main passageway. 
Stacy is always collecting memories about her shop from Leavenworth residents. These recollections from grandchildren and great-grandchildren have helped to expand her theories on the purpose for the tunnels...from a means for transporting illegal alcohol and cigars into Leavenworth to a stop on the Underground Railroad to an entire underground city that was built up to combat the constant flooding of the Missouri River. There is, so far, no historical proof but lots of interesting possibilities. Perhaps most intriguing is that tunnels like this one snaked out all over Leavenworth in the 1800's, but the city has filled in all except 2; Stacy's and the one beneath the State Farm office. Stacy's tunnel is the only one you can tour. And it is a little bit famous. It was featured on the nationally syndicated show, Plainspirits, which can be viewed here.

Ultimately, the question had to be your tunnel haunted? No, Stacy quickly answered. But...there's always a but. The Plainspirits film crew had brought 4 cameras with them. When they entered one of the rooms, all 4 camera batteries died simultaneously. According to the crew, that had never happened. OMG, which room? As Stacy showed us in, we heard the distinctive beep-beep of a cell phone dying. So, that can't be a coincidence, right? Whose cell phone dies at 2 PM?

And then there was the mannequin room. Stacy has had several people approach her about purchasing the mannequins but she refuses to part with them. I agree. When you start moving bodies, you just never know what you are going to find.
I know...creeeeepy. Not enough margaritas in the world to make this not creepy. 

We paused for one more picture with the gatekeeper before heading back up.
That lady's American flag t-shirt reads "United We Sip" and the stars are tiny wine glasses. I think that might be the best thing I've ever seen. 

Back up top, we said good-bye to Stacy and thanked her for her time and her hospitality. And then we shopped. 
Jackie got a deep whiff of Butt-Naked...
...and confessed that it actually smells AMAZING. 
I had to have this t-shirt because, really, when you move like we do, home is wherever you are at the moment.
And Jackie chose this rustic metal sign for her living room. Admittedly, I have sign envy. There's one more. It might be calling my name.

Stacy doesn't offer tours of the kitchen and tunnel very often simply because she is so busy working, but she has started doing more as she loves the interaction with the community. To encourage that interaction, she is in the planning stages of several events, including a Beauty Bar with Jessica Parish (a cosmetologist on staff at Candle Queen Candles and a graduate in the top of her class at the Paul Mitchell School). More details on this event to come soon, but if the kitchen tour is any indication, every detail will be perfect and you will get so much more than you expect!

Stacy also hosts the annual Candle Queen's Romp 5K in April, which benefits area charities chosen by Candle Queen Candles Facebook fans. In 2014, Candle Queen Candles presented a check for $10,000 to The Farmer's House in Weston. Tiaras, tutus, terrific cause!
And recently, Stacy began a Candle Queen Shopping Facebook group called Candle Queen Candles Shopping Queens! It's a group so you must request to join, but Stacy's cool and all are invited to the party! Since Facebook has changed its algorithm, Stacy uses the group to post everything new...clothes, events, candles...because you get a notification when she posts. This is the best place to stay-up-to-date on all things Candle Queen...AND win a kitchen/tunnel tour!

If you go:
*Plenty of on-street parking
*For shopping and the tour, Stacy is certainly a kid-friendly kind of gal, but you will have more fun if your child is a girl over the age of...8? Or it's Mommy Time with your girlfriends. I love my toddler but for 2 hours, I didn't miss him at all.
*Check-in on Facebook, get cool free cup.
*Ask Stacy about the leather shavings in the tunnel.
*Shop for a Pandora charm or 2 from their Pandora counter in the corner of the store.
*Take home some Butt-Naked. You won't be sorry.

Have you been to Candle Queen Candles? What did you think? Have you been on a kitchen/tunnel tour? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments! I approve them daily. 


  1. sounds like a hoot! glad you're enjoying leavenworth.

  2. Thank you Allyson, for a wonderful story! I so enjoyed giving you all a tour! As for the "Southern Hospitality? That's an Iowa thing!" :) Come see me again soon! I've always got some margaritas on the rocks...


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