It hits me the second I walk through the door: I'm six years old again and jittery with excitement. I'm in a candy store, feeling that familiar sensation. How will I ever choose? I want it all.
Nothing takes me back to childhood like a trip to the candy store. Saltwater taffy is summer trips to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where we took our allowance and bought it freshly made on the boardwalk. The bags of old-fashioned brittles and coconut chews are stops at general stores in North Carolina that were filled with barrel after barrel of penny candy. The thick blocks of chocolate make me crave my grandfather—the bags of walnuts remind me of his favorite black walnut cake.
Somis Nut House is the kind of place that takes you back in time. Part candy store, part nut store, family-owned, and old fashioned, it has been a Ventura County institution since 1959 when it started as a walnut processing plant. After the walnut business dried up in the early nineties, it evolved to become what it is today: a locals’ favorite stop for candy, nuts, dried fruit, and a taste of nostalgia.
The unassuming building sits on Highway 118 west of Moorpark. A humble sign gives little indication of the deliciousness waiting inside. Once there, you'll find co-owners Rebecca Pecsok and her brother, Jeremy Resnik, working busily in the office or chatting with customers at the register. They grew up in the business, working closely with their father, Steve Resnik, who founded the Nut House with his own father 50 years ago. Though Steve passed away in December of 2009, brother and sister carry the torch, with occasional help from their own children, doing their best to honor the family legacy.
You may hear the tap of a computer keyboard, and a cell phone occasionally rings, but many aspects of the business are decidedly old-fashioned. They do inventory with a pen and paper, there are no barcodes or scanners, and they enter everything into the register by hand. Unlike big businesses, they know the majority of their customers personally. “If I don’t know their name,” says Jeremy, “I at least know their face."
When asked about the void left by their father’s recent passing, Jeremy says, "This business was his life and he really connected with the customers." On a recent visit I overheard at least one customer offer her condolences, saying, "We so enjoyed your dad." Rebecca and Jeremy have big shoes to fill, but they seem to be following right in dad’s footsteps. It is not uncommon to see hugs exchanged, and small talk still flows freely.
Aesthetically, there is nothing like the Somis Nut House anywhere nearby. And the same goes for the way business is conducted. They try to keep their prices fair—frankly, some of their goodies feel like a real steal. Not many places carry such a variety: from salted and unsalted nuts, raw nuts to roasted, healthy dried fruit to decadent candies. When asked about their dad's vision for the business, the new owners agree, "Dad wanted it to be an honest business … and he wouldn't want it to be too big." That embrace of simplicity—the feeling that this store is completely content with itself—is evident the moment you cross the threshold.
As I browsed their selection, the variety of options overwhelmed and delighted me. Shelves are mounded with every kind of nut imaginable—from Brazil nuts in the shell to lemon chili peanuts. The dried fruit is bountiful, too, including cantaloupe, plums, and tangerines. And white chocolate peanut butter cups, malt balls, peanut brittle, jawbreakers, and licorice are just the beginning of the sweet stuff.
I'm kicking myself that I didn't discover this little haven sooner. Now I have to make up for lost time, and that will mean new holiday traditions: bags of treats for the family on Valentine's Day, Easter baskets full of pastel candies, and Christmas stockings full of peppermints and gold coins. I might even start sending a box of saltwater taffy to each of my cousins who, back in the day, wandered by my side on the boardwalk.