Annette Pardun shows off the customizable lids on the candy filled jars sold at her Prairie Avenue shop. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Writer)

After years spent honing her baking skills at pop-ups, farmers markets and catering events, Annette Pardun, purveyor of indulgent toffee, caramel and candy barks has opened a brick-and-mortar shop named Fill My Jar at 3726 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield.

“I am excited to be part of the business community in Brookfield,” said Pardun. “There is a sense of closeness in Brookfield you just don’t find other places.”

The devoted confectioner hosted a soft opening and a ribbon cutting last week where customers, curious neighbors and old friends came streaming in to welcome the sweet shop to the Brookfield’s downtown district. 

The well-appointed shop underwent an extensive year-long renovation before opening and offers an array of nostalgic penny candy as well as an assortment of handcrafted confections and chocolate creations exclusive to Fill My Jar. 

Traditional toffee, foil-wrapped caramels and peppermint bark form the spine of Fill My Jar’s product line — much of which is appropriately sold in whimsical mason jars with customizable lids.

Pardun features a rotating line of 11 handmade barks made from all-natural ingredients. Standouts in the “FMJ line” include peanut butter crunch, lemon, and coffee bark as well as best-selling English toffee and peppermint barks. All products are made from all-natural ingredients and flavored with top-quality 100-percent natural oils.

“By the time we are done flavoring it really isn’t chocolate anymore,” said Pardun. “The flavor becomes so specific that we are using what really could be thought of as lemon chocolate or cherry chocolate.”   

Raised in a large Italian family prone to hosting gatherings centered on home-cooked foods, Pardun naturally gravitated toward baking and decorating. She attended the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and worked as freelance cake decorator, but the married mother to three adult daughters dedicated the bulk of her adult life to being a stay-at-home mom. 

After an extensive renovation, Fill My Jar is now open on Prairie Avenue in Brookfield. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Writer)

“Even though I had a background in sales and marketing, after staying home to raise my kids, I felt like I was going to have to start at the bottom because so many years had gone by,” said Pardun. “My kids were my first and foremost job. This all grew up around them.”

In March of 2015, Pardun embraced her love of crafting confections and began crafting barks and caramels as holiday gifts. Before long, her jarred products had gained a following and she began preparing them in a shared commercial kitchen and selling them at craft fairs and farmers markets. 

Everything changed when Pardun visited her husband at work in 2017. Tucked in the corner of the lobby of his office building in Chicago’s Loop, Pardun found a woman selling handmade jewelry. 

“I walked straight over and asked her how she was able to have a table in the lobby. That was the first time I heard of a pop-up and I knew it was the place for me,” said Pardun. “Besides, the hot sun at farmers markets and chocolate were not a great combination.”

Annette Pardun (center), owner of Fill my Jar in Brookfield stands with employees Nathan Dau (left) and head confectioner Sarah Dau during the shop’s soft opening on Thursday, Feb. 4. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Writer)

Soon, Pardun had her first pop-up table in the air-conditioned lobby of her husband’s building. Before long, Fill My Jar was popping up on a rotating schedule among nearly all the office buildings in the loop. As Fill My Jar added pop-up venues, the demand for Pardun’s products grew to include corporate gifts and catering events like baby showers and weddings. 

“I was relentless,” said Pardun. “I was doing pop-ups in the city Monday through Friday and cooking at night. I had part-time workers that grew into full-time employees.”

As business grew, so did Pardun’s desire to have her own kitchen and retail shop. After renovating a house in Brookfield to be closer to her family, she turned her attention to the renovating the Prairie Avenue shop. 

Today Pardun, a new grandmother, lives in very close proximity to her daughters and around the corner from Fill My Jar.

“Being here, in my own shop, proves you are never too old to dream,” said Pardun. “There is always room for a second show.”