What do obsessive-compulsive disorder, super-sweet candies and a vegan lifestyle all have in common?
One Napan, Melodi Donahue, has pulled them all together and started her own business — Obsessive Confection Disorder. The custom candy company makes caramels and toffees from vegan ingredients.
“I’m extremely passionate about how I live and how I do things,” Donahue said.
Donahue makes the caramels and toffees with a personalized touch, right down to the wrapping. She takes pride in her product.
“I handle everything firsthand,” she said. “I have a very personal involvement.”
Donahue worked for the Vallejo Unified School District for the past 30 years, but said she dreamed of starting her own confectionery business.
“I had been making treats for family and friends for over 40 years,” she said. “I’ve had a lifelong desire to have my own candy business or bakery.”
After losing a close friend, “that spurred me into realizing that you’ve got to get busy living or the chance could be taken away from you.”
Another strong woman had an influence on Donahue’s business.
“I grew up with a grandmother who was Russian and German,” she said. “She taught me how to preserve the bounty of the seasons and how to maintain as much integrity as you can when you’re feeding other people. You don’t argue with your grandma.”
The name of her business is a play on words that incorporates Donahue’s own obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Donahue said her OCD can actually benefit her customers: It drives her to have absolute control of her sources and cooking process. Donahue says she constantly checks and rechecks everything she does.
“It plays a huge part in how I make my confections,” she said. “I do things the absolute best way they can be done.”
“The recipes I develop are based almost entirely upon locally sourced produce,” she explained, “as well as other certified organic, fair-trade, cootie-free ingredients, most of which I pick up at local farmers markets, food co-ops, my own backyard, and foraged or traded throughout the community.”
She even grows some of the ingredients herself.
“I have 96 rose bushes and a friend has a tangerine tree,” she said. “So between those two things, I use rose petals and tangerines to make my rose tangerine caramel with candied rose petals on top.”
Donahue said she’s had to be creative to make caramels that fit her vegan beliefs, because traditional caramels are heavy in cream.
Donahue started her vegan tradition after delivering to a customer in San Francisco. All the employees were vegans and she wanted to take them a treat.
She had to figure out how to make her confections using only vegan techniques.
“Once I figured out that I could make something delicious without animal involvement, why wouldn’t I?” she said. “Even though it’s a vegan confection, I’ll put it up against anything else out there.”
Positive feedback keeps Donahue going.
“I get a lot of really positive comments that have encouraged me,” she said. “People have said that my caramels are a Willie Wonka experience, because if you savor them you will get a whole flavor profile.”
Donahue’s treats are prepared at commercial kitchens in Napa and Suisun.
They’re currently available online, as well as at Other Avenues Food Co-op in San Francisco and Bookshop Benicia in Benicia. Donahue has also been selling her confections at Napa’s Saturday farmers market since May.
CORRECTION: This story has been altered since its original posting to reflect Donahue's correct prior place of employment.