“Food and music were the only things I ever wanted to do,” is the way Mackenzie Colt explains how she went from being a “Hee Haw Honey” to owning her own candy business. “I grew up in a family where no one cooked. Sunday dinner was about the only homecooked meal we ever had, so when I got married at fifteen, I started reading cookbooks like they were novels,” said Mackenzie. “Once I learned to cook it was time to start experimenting and making up my own recipes.” One of those made-up recipes became the now famous Colts Bolts, the best selling product of her candy company.
Where it All Started
Mackenzie’s father was a professional baseball player with the St. Louis Browns. She was born in Memphis when her family moved there for her dad to manage the Memphis Chicks, a semi-pro baseball team. A short time after her birth, her family moved back to St. Louis, where she spent her childhood years.
From her youth, she wrote and sang her own songs and when she married, she used those talents to put her husband through college and law school. What started out as a “gig” in the lounge of a St. Louis hotel ended with Mackenzie opening for Buck Owens concerts for the next two years. Buck and the Buckeroos had been performing in the showroom of the hotel where Mackenzie was singing. “After they finished each night, the band members would come into the lounge to relax. Within a few days, they brought Buck in to hear me and he hired me to be his opening act,” shared Mackenzie. “After two years of performing with him, Buck introduced me to the Hee Haw executives. At that time, Barbie Benton was leaving the show and Buck suggested that I audition. I did – along with thousands of others – and I was hired. The rest is history.”
“I spent the next six years with Hee Haw. They gave me the opportunity to not only be one of the cast members, but also to perform my own songs on the show. It was a dream come true.” After coming to Nashville for six years to tape the Hee Haw show, in 1984 Mackenzie decided to move to “Music City” to pursue her songwriting. “What I discovered in Nashville was that I was totally burned out from music,” she explained. “I really didn’t have the inspiration or motivation to continue writing songs. I would write part of a song then turn it over to a co-writer or just put it up and forget about it.”
But rather than feel at a loss, Mackenzie turned her situation into the inspiration she needed to pursue another dream. “My only problem was that I didn’t know what else I could do, except sing and cook. That’s when I started thinking about the candy business,” said Mackenzie. “I guess in the back of my mind, I had always wondered if I could turn my candy making into a business, but I really wasn’t prepared for what happened,” said Mackenzie.
The Early Days
“My first order from the Honey Baked Hams stores wasn’t for my candy, but instead for 500 of my Gooey Butter Pies. I had to immediately find a professional kitchen that I could lease.” That first order gave Mackenzie the confidence to continue. “I had so much to learn,” said Mackenzie. “I didn’t know where to buy large quantities of chocolate or specially cut or colored foil to wrap the Colts Bolts in, so I went to the grocery store and bought Hersey bars to melt down and Reynolds Wrap to cut into little squares,” she said with a smile.
“Since that time, I’ve learned much about the business of candy making. Instead of buying one Hershey bar at a time, I now secure contracts for 100,000 pounds of chocolate. I’m very particular about what we put in our products; I use only the best ingredients.” And now when it comes to large-scale orders: “When an order for 12 tons of Colts Bolts came in from a Japanese gourmet foods distributor, the company was ready. We knew what to do.”
Colts Chocolates Today
Today Mackenzie’s company has many different chocolates and desserts: the original Colts Bolts, Truffle Babies, Marie McGhee’s Bumble Bees (named after her mother), Salted Caramel Gooey Butter Bars, the best Chess Pie you will ever eat, White Chocolate Pecan Pie, and many more sweet treats. And to top it all off, Mackenzie’s customer list reads like a who’s who of country music, celebrities, and even some political stars. Clients include Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Vince Gill, K.T. Oslin, Eddie Rabbit, Dwight Yokum, and Garth Brooks.
She has also shipped her products to Adam Sandler, Robert Redford, Priscilla Presley, Leslie Nielsen, Joan Rivers, Geraldo Riveria, Dick Clark, Tipper Gore, Ethel Kennedy, and even President and Mrs. Bush. “Starting this company has been good for me. It has given me the energy to work hard and it has taught me how to work smart. I may not get the instant gratification of 20,000 people applauding when I’m on stage, but I have long term gratification: every day several thousand people buy my candy. That’s the kind of applause I really love!”