By Andrew Holt
Meet the Willy Wonka of Walla Walla: Paul Jenes, a mild mannered version of Roald Dahl’s famous classic candy character. Although the University of Washington grad does not possess the flamboyance of Mr. Wonka, his passion for making life much sweeter for the world, and particularly the Walla Walla Valley, is just as evident.
Jenes is the proud owner of Bright’s Candies, which he transformed into an old-fashioned candy shop back in 2005 when he moved it to Main Street from its cubby-hole existence on 1st Avenue. When you meander through the doors of Bright’s, you step back in time – a pleasant step – into the full service candy store one used to find on every main street of an America gone-bye, replete with a popcorn machine, spilling out buttered, cheese and the coveted caramel corn, the long glass case of freshly made chocolates, ranging from turtles to peanut clusters to wine filled cordials, the colorful wall of jelly beans, the swirling lollipop table, and every child’s favorite – the candy making room that resides in full view, enabling youngsters to stare through the window as Paul Jenes works his magic, creating chocolate wonders as the rivers of chocolate pour out of the machine.
Not to be overlooked is the ice cream counter with the traditional offerings of Rocky Road, Chocolate Chip and Bubble Gum flavors. Families sit on the patio, licking their cones or drinking their shakes in the early summer evenings. Where is Normal Rockwell? He’d paint this scene in a heartbeat.
Jenes’ wonderful gift to Downtown Walla Walla came serendipitously into fruition. The Seattle area native doesn’t have a business degree on his resume…but rather a degree in Oceanography. He quips, “That didn’t go to much use. The closest I get to it is creating the candy seahorses.” In fact, Jenes did not know much about Walla Walla before creating his confection masterpiece but his wife did – she was born and raised in the Valley. When the young coupled decided to find a place to begin a family, they returned to her hometown.
But what to do with an Oceanography degree in landlocked Southeastern Washington? Jenes, who had no experience in the candy world, decided to delve into Bright’s…a longtime institution in Walla Walla with the purpose of owning it and eventually moving it to Main Street. A complete newcomer, the hardworking Jenes learned from the previous owners and then took the over the reins in 1998. The soft-spoken Jenes understands Bright’s place in Walla Walla history and the new store on Main Street was an attempt to enhance its place in the community’s fabric.
Jenes says he understands the responsibility of maintaining the Bright’s tradition. “I know the mothers bring their children to buy certain favorites that their mothers and grandmothers brought them into Bright’s to buy,” Jenes muses. “I enjoy candy making because they come here to enjoy. It’s great to provide something that people enjoy. Many of our special orders are for weddings or birthdays. It’s neat to know that you are helping make an experience that someone will remember with great happiness.”
Bright’s Candies is located on 11 E. Main Street between 1st and 2nd Ave.