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NEW ORLEANS—Cherie Melancon Franz and her husband, Arthur, have turned a playful conversation into a mini Valentine's Day sensation with NOLA Talks Candy Hearts, sweet treats emblazoned with New Orleans-themed humor.

The candy creations are in response to the news that broke in late January that the popular NECCO SweetHearts heart-shaped message candies would be scarce this February.

"I read NECCO wouldn't be producing the SweetHearts candy and I thought out loud: 'I can believe no one has made New Orleans-themed ones,'" Cherie Melancon Franz said.

She and her husband started batting sayings back and forth. Things like "Po-boy meets girl," "Me plus you = my favorite krewe," "Will you beignet mine," "504 ever yours" and "I got roux, babe."

After the conversation, Franz slept on the idea one night and then jumped on Google to locate companies that print words on food. Within days, she had negotiated the best price and production schedule possible, decided on packaging 20 to 22 hearts in cellophane bags for $5 apiece and found a couple of vendors. She called on a dozen friends and family to help package the hearts.

"The first 10,000 sold out in 23 hours," she said of the candies, which she advertised on Facebook.

Her packaging team will be back again for more bagging because Franz, who owns Thinkerella, an after-school and special events business that teaches children about math and science, has bought about 20,000 more candies.

"We'll just have cocktails and bag candy," she said of the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-
pants business.

The candies will be available through the Thinkerella office at 260 Hickory Ave. in Harahan. She encourages potential buyers to visit her Facebook page or the Thinkerella website to find out when.

This week, the candy will be at Little Miss Muffin, 766 Harrison Ave., Lakeview. She's shipping the candies out of town as well.

Franz's business opportunity came after NECCO of Massachusetts, the maker of the 153-year-old heart-shaped SweetHearts, with sayings like "Kiss Me," "Say Yes," and "Be Mine," went out of business in 2018.

SweetHearts may be back, however, because NECCO sold its brands to a number of candy companies, including selling SweetHearts to Spangler Candy of Ohio. The Spangler website says: "Look for announcements to learn when these products become available!"

If so, NOLA Talks Candy Hearts will likely be around to compete.

Franz has been approached by Carnival krewe riders to throw them; schools that want to use the family-friendly candy as fundraisers and businesses owners who want to ensure they can get them for Valentine's Day 2020.

It's been whirlwind, said Franz, who has no experience in the candy business and very little in retail.

"My husband looked at me and said, 'I love how you think of something and the next day you just do it,'" she said.

If you have an idea, you have to not only think fast, but act fast, said Franz, who lives in Lakeview with her husband and two children, Anabelle, 16, and Ethan, 12.

The couple both enjoy turning creativity into business.

Her husband, Arthur Franz IV, who manages corporate training in the oil and gas industry, also owns a board game business with two friends called UpLink Underground. The company makes the game "Breakaway Football" and plans to release "Mardi Gras Madness" for 2020.

Thinkerella grew out of Franz's experience taking her daughter to a party where the little girls did nails and face masks. On the ride home from that party, she began formulating the idea of turning fun math and science activities into a party-like experience. The business, which serves children 2 to 13, turns five this year.

For Franz, the New Orleans candy hearts could be a teachable moment for those Thinkerella-age kids.

"I thought this was a really great opportunity to talk with them about innovation, about using technology — how that you can print on anything now. This is really a good opportunity to show them, if you have a good idea and you run with it, you can be really successful."

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