Chris Corona blames his mother for his candle addiction.
"My mother was a candle freak, and so I turned into one, too," says the 38-year-old owner of The Garden Party, which specializes in all-natural soy aromatherapy candles, wholesale candles and supplies.
Corona and his business partner, Robin Menucci, started their business in April 2003 and are already exporting 60 cases of candles a week to accounts all over the continent.
"They say friends should never go into business together, but we decided to do it anyway," laughs Corona, who started making candles 12 years ago when his grandfather passed away and turned to the craft to relieve anxiety.
Every Garden Party candle is hand-poured in Corona's garage located on the shore of Wind Lake, 30 miles southwest of Milwaukee. Corona, who worked with the developmentally disabled for 16 years, is considering having his candles manufactured by a group of developmentally disabled workers through a Racine-based program called SERVE.
Corona's candles are 100 percent natural, made from soybean based wax enhanced with botanical oil, feature a cotton-core wick and do not have dyes. Therefore, they are always white.
The majority of candles on the market are made with paraffin wax, a petroleum based by-product of refined gasoline. Some studies have shown that carcinogens released by paraffin wax candles are as dangerous as second-hand cigarette smoke and can cause harm to the heart, lungs, circulatory system and nervous system.
Soy candles release less carcinogens and black soot. Soy is a renewable resource that decreases the need for crude oil, but ironically, Corona's best clients are car washes.
"While waiting for their cars, people have to look at air fresheners, window scrapers and our candles," he says.
Garden Party candles will burn for 70 hours and, according to Corona, have incredible "scent throw." They come in 80 fragrances, including fresh linen, basil/nectarine, baby powder, vanilla and a banana nut bread that will make you want to grab a spoon.
Garden Party candles cost between $12 and $20, depending on where you buy them.
Corona toyed with the idea of opening a candle business for many years. At one point, he almost took over the business of Nick Filardo, the 90-year-old man who taught Corona how to make container candles, but he passed away before Corona was ready to switch careers.
"The timing just wasn't right," he says.
But when it's right, it's right. The Garden Party began to bloom when Corona saw a statement on a candle distributor's Web site saying their company was committed to helping other soy candle businesses get started. So, Corona contacted the owner of the company, called Soylutions, and found out that the sentence had been removed from their Web site that very morning with the launch of a new site.
All the same, Soylutions helped Corona start his company and serves as his distributor today.
When he's not pouring wax, Corona cares for the plants and animals on his farmette in Wind Lake. He has four goats, a goose, dozens of ducks, a dog, turtle, cat, two birds, three aquariums of fish and 30 chickens.
Given the choice, would he choose his candles or his chickens?
"Chickens rock, but candles are my lifeline," he says.
The Garden Party Web site is thegardenparty.com.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.