Sweets and Treats at Pumpkinland Chocolate Company
By Kayla Anderson
Story by Kayla Anderson
Photos by Sunshine Rush
ON A WARM AUTUMN DAY, a sign with a smiling pumpkin on it beckons people into the parking area of a quaint shop with a duck and lily pad-filled pond and buzzing dragonflies next to it. It’s peaceful and relaxing, despite it being right along Highway 99. Walking into the Pumpkinland Chocolate Company, elegant displays of delectable chocolates and nut brittles line the walls. The shop is warm and inviting, matching the tantalizing treats that it sells, and Jackie Gonzalez scoops ice cream for young and old customers alike in between wrapping up chocolate lollipops in the back. In the adjoining glass display cases, chocolate truffles sparkle like diamond rings do in a jewelry store.
Gonzalez says Pumpkinland’s most popular items are the chocolate turtles made in five different kinds – either peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, or pecans dipped in chocolate. However, her personal favorites are the snow almonds comprised of roasted almonds each dipped in milk chocolate, white chocolate, and covered in powdered sugar. “It’s like Christmas in a bite,” Gonzalez says.
On its acre of property, Pumpkinland does more than just make chocolate. As the name implies, Pumpkinland started off as a pumpkin patch when Wayne and Jean Brown acquired the five-acre property in 1972. Although Wayne worked as a traveling salesman for a salt company at the time, he built a vegetable farm and told his kids that they could manage it to make some pocket change. Along with selling pumpkins, the family created some Wizard of Oz-themed attractions to help establish it as a fun place for families to go. Wayne Brown Jr., the oldest son (now a cabinet maker in Redding) made a complete Munchkin village and even designed some of the candy equipment. Daughter Colleen Brown-Patten did all the artwork for Pumpkinland and even got offered a job at Disney. Mark Brown is a science and math teacher in Rocklin and the youngest son, Sean Brown, worked in the medical industry before moving back to Pumpkinland in 2007 and taking care of his parents.
“I remember working with my grandfather as a little kid, weighing pumpkins and my grandpa was the cashier,” Sean says. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Pumpkinland was busy with all the lumber mills in town and they sold nuts, candy and flowers in the summer and had a big circus tent behind the chocolate shop where they used to put on plays. The Browns even hosted Christmas tree farms in December. However, growing pumpkins was a lot of work, so the Browns moved into growing and selling asparagus and then chocolate, which was a lot more manageable. In the late ‘80s when their candy maker passed away, Wayne learned how to make the chocolate. In 2007, when Sean moved back, he renovated the chocolate shop, put in a nice patio, started offering ice cream in the summer and continues to make all the candy.
“We’re the epitome of small business; we just try to make quality candy the best we can,” Sean says. And although the cost of ingredients is rapidly rising, Sean is committed to keeping Pumpkinland a fun, affordable place for families to go. Pumpkinland also continues to grow and sell vegetables in the fall, including melons, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, persimmons, and pomegranates for 89 cents a pound.
“There’s no pressure and it’s nice to have a place to decompress, come out and have a good time,” says Sean.
On this midsummer Friday, families continue to filter in and out, telling Gonzalez stories of how they found Pumpkinland through word-of-mouth and how far they drove to get ice cream. Pumpkinland charges $1.50 for up to three hearty scoops of ice cream, making it the best deal in the North State. An older couple came in and went straight to the brittle section, picking out their treats and paying for it at the counter, acting like they had been there many times before.
One young boy at the counter was having a hard time handling a three-scoop cone on his own and Gonzalez quickly gave him a cup. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to eat all of this,” the 10-year-old unabashedly admits.
Everyone seems to enjoy their ice cream outside, meandering around the grassy lawns and trying to lick up the frozen treats before they melt. On the edge of the pond, a woman from Red Bluff looks down at her little boy and says, “This is my new favorite place. I’m going to have to bring your brother here.” •
Pumpkinland Chocolate Company • 12000 Highway 99, Red Bluff
(530) 527-3026 • Hours: 11 am to 5 pm daily