Candy Cotton Concessions gives students a work-study opportunity

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ROCHESTER, N.Y., (WROC) — The end of summer is here, which means the Red Wings baseball season is over too. During the summer, fans love the iconic “Sweet Spot” cotton candy and concession stand in right field of Frontier Field. Scott Smith is the man behind it.

“I started out as a beer vendor way back at Silver Stadium when I was just getting out of school, and from there, I got introduced to the business, and took a few opportunities to stretch out on my own,” Smith said.

He’s been in business for 30 years as the president of “Candy Cotton Concessions.” Now, he has multiple stands in Frontier Field, Blue Cross Area, the Kodak Center, and the Buffalo Bills training camp. He has multiple stands at Frontier Field.

“Sweet Spot” in right field at Frontier Field

“The Sweet Spot, the coffee stand, another Sweet Spot on the third base side, a kettle corn stand, and a Nutty Bavarian stand,” Smith said.

There are five locations in Blue Cross as well. The business model seems simple for all of the venues.

“My employees are my employees,” Smith said. “Here at Frontier Field, the Rochester Red Wings are my client. And what the client wants, the client gets.”

What does the client get? Cotton candy of course, specialty drinks, kettle corn, snow cones, and fried dough. But for all the confectionery goods, Smith says his success is a different kind of secret ingredient.

“My employees are the key to this whole business,” Smith said. “It’s not me, it’s not what we make, it’s them. It’s what they do.”

Those employees are a small, close-knit group of high schoolers and early college students, all girls, working to set up the stands, make the food and serve customers. And they’re connected to Smith’s original employees.

Scott Smith, President of Cotton Candy Concessions

“My employees started on the very first day,” Smith said. “I went to Irondequoit High School. So I wen to to the high school, and I asked for kids looking to work that wanted jobs that were also good students. From that, I got the ‘Original Eight.’Then came the perpetuity of it. When you’re a senior, andyou’re leaving and going off to college, the last thing you have to do is hire the incoming juniors.”

Smith has since expanded the program to other schools.

Smith asks the graduating seniors to refer someone a year below that they trust. Through this process, all of his current employees can trace their lineage to the “Original Eight.” Smith hasn’t conducted a job interview in 30 years with over 400 kids over those years. Because of this process, there has been an unforeseen consequence.

“They won’t hire boys,” Smith said. “This is their job. This is there thing, this is their place.”

The girls are here on a work-study program before they go back to school. They can receive a half credit in high school.

“I feel like’s family,” Cecillia Gangemi said.

“I love everyone I work with,” said Samantha Smith. “I see them every day, they’re my best friends.

It’s just not camaraderie. There are some lessons, and room for growth too.

(From left to right: Amanda Wood, Cecillia Gangemi, Samantha Smith)

“The concept of customer service,” said Samantha. “It helps a lot where you don’t realize it.”

“I think it’s stressful and rewarding,” Amanda Wood said. “Definitely people skills. I have an anxiety disorder, when Scott put me on register the first time, I was very nervous to have to speak to everybody that comes up. Over time it’s gotten so much easier to have a conversation with people when they order just one thing.”

The Candy Cotton uniform code is much appreciated too.

“Yeah, every day we come wearing our tie-dye,” Wood said.

“It’s so nice,” Samantha Smith said.

Wood hands off cotton candy she made.

For Scott Smith, this goes beyond the job. He says these girls go onto become CFO’s, nurses, small business owners, military members, advocates, and professors. This connection is not just professional, but personal.

“That’s funny because they all laugh with me, they joke with me, they give me less respect than any adult that they’ll deal with,” Smith said. “But at the same time, I’ve been invited to graduation parties, and I’ve been invited to weddings. For me, when I get that invitation, I did something right. As a matter of fact, the Original Eight just had a reunion, and they invited my wife and I to their reunion.”

For Smith, this is a dream come true.

The line starts getting long at the second inning.

“When I worked at Silver Stadium I was the director of concessions. When we came here, I made a choice. To continue on my own, or remain as an employee. I always hoped to get the arenas. I’m going to get everything in Rochester.”

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