In 1974, John Tompkins’ world changed, when his friend in the fourth grade shared caramels his mother had made.
Tompkins never forgot Mrs. Cook’s caramels and about 25 years later, he started experimenting with recipes to recreate that delicious taste. “This was pre-internet. I bought a couple of candy recipe books and started playing around, combining a few things, changing a few things up here and there. I eventually came up with a recipe that I thought tasted like Mrs. Cook’s,” he says.
For the next decade, Tompkins made caramels in small, 2.5-pound batches for gifts and special occasions. Caramel making became his oasis from his day job running a credit derivatives brokerage floor on Wall Street.
“In 2008, after an insane 23-year run on Wall Street, I retired, but I didn’t know what to do with my time,” he says. “After two-and-a-half years of contemplating life, I started to get some serious side-eye from my wife, Sharon, so I knew I needed to find something to do—quickly.”
Tompkins considered his love of caramels, and a second career was launched. In 2011, he opened JT’s Confections. “By 2014, when we started turning a profit, Sharon suggested we do something good with this craziness, so we began donating to charities. Our mission is simple: Help those who help others.”
Since 2016, Tompkins has donated all profits from JT’s Confections to charities, including Disabled American Veterans, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Summit Speech School in New Providence, The Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, Homeless Solutions and the Father English Consumer Choice Food Pantry in Paterson. “I just take out the costs of running the business and medical insurance. I don’t pull a salary,” he says. “The rest goes to the organizations we support.”
Every March, JT’s Confections runs its month-long Military Appreciation Campaign. “When you buy a box of chocolates, I’ll donate a second box to a retired or active member of the military with a nice thank-you card that also says who sponsored the box. We ship these thank-you boxes anywhere in the country,” he says. “I also donate boxes directly to the VA or the American Legion as a way of saying thank you,” he says.
For the past five years, JT’s Confections has partnered with the Transition Program at Randolph High School. This program helps provide young adults with practical life skills through work experience in local businesses as well as living skills learned at their group home on the school campus. At JT’s, the teens help with labeling and packing of their turtle boxes as well as helping to fulfill online and corporate orders. ”Working with these kids is my favorite thing we do at JT’s. You have to be willing to take a chance, open your heart and open your mind. If you do, you’re going to be blown away.”
Another organization that Tompkins is passionate about is The Summit Speech School in New Providence. “I have a deaf sister, so as soon as I was introduced to the school I fell in love with it,” he says. “I knew on a very personal level the impact this school has on the lives of so many deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. It gives them a seat at the table.” Each year, JT's donates more than $25,000 to the school.
For the past two springs, JT’s has run a ”Your Change Can Make a Change” drive. They invite people to bring in their can, jar or bucket of loose change to be donated in exchange for treats like chocolate-covered Oreos or pretzels. While they are collecting change, they are also selling sponsorships. For every $500 sponsorship pledge, the individual will receive a chance to win a night of chocolate-making for themselves and nine friends.
When the program ends, the Transition students come in to sort the change, then travel to Morristown to have an end-of-the-year business lunch, then head to the Peapack-Gladstone Bank to run the coins through the change counting machine.
During these two years, JT’s has collected more than $8,000 in change and $20,000 in sponsorships. All the money is evenly divided between Table of Hope, The Summit Speech School, Homeless Solutions and The Transition program. “Last year, the money went to the Transition Program for a stove and a phone system for their house, Homeless Solutions for its emergency housing budget, Table of Hope in Morristown for its food budget and Summit Speech for its auditory services budget,” Tompkins says.
JT’s outreach transcends monetary donations. Every Easter, they donate Easter baskets to every child at JBWS, a shelter for women in domestic abuse situations, as well as Homeless Solutions.
Corporate clients are a big driver of JT’s philanthropy. On holiday orders over $1,000, Tompkins donates 15 percent of the gross sale to either St. Jude, The Summit Speech School, Disabled American Vets or Homeless Solutions. The client chooses which charity the 15 percent goes to and JT’s will make the donation in their name. ”I love all four of those charities, and I don’t care whose name the donation is in. It’s a home run for everyone,” Tompkins says.
Corporate team building events are another way JT’s raises funds. For $2,000, 10 people make chocolate for about five hours, then enjoy a meal. The first $1,000 covers the costs; the second $1,000 is donated directly to one of the preferred charities.
“Running the brokerage floor on Wall Street was insane, but this is physically harder,” Tompkins says. “I absolutely adore what I do. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Visit JT’s Confections retail store at 1206 Sussex Turnpike in Randolph or online at JTsConfections.com or call 908-377-9199.
“I absolutely adore what I do. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”