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In 1994, Ira Gutner left a successful career in New York City’s Garment District to move upstate and open a boutique candy and coffee shop. Samuel’s of Rhinebeck was named after his late Uncle Sam, who introduced Ira to penny candy when he was a child.
On April 4, 2014, Ira suffered a massive heart attack and died at 57. He left behind his husband, whom he’d been with for 12 years, many family members and friends, and (of course) the shop. The community’s collective heart was broken.
But when it seemed as though the beloved shop might close its doors, a few celebrities decided to step in.
Here’s an image of the 400 square-foot store, as posted on its Facebook page:
“We moved to upstate New York,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan explained in a 2016 interview with Stephen Colbert, recalling how he got involved with the shop. “The first guy I met in this town called Rhinebeck was this Ira, and he owned this candy store. He passed away a couple years ago, and Paul (Rudd) and I had been friends for a while and we just didn’t want it to turn into a smoothie stand or something. It had been there since the early ’90s, so we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s pool our money together and get a candy store,’ so now we’re the proud owners of Samuel’s Sweet Shop.”
“The Walking Dead” actor and his wife, actress Hilarie Burton Morgan, live on a working farm in Rhinebeck. They joined fellow actor Rudd and his wife, Julie, who also call Dutchess County home, in saving the store. The current owners also include part-time area resident Andy Ostroy, his girlfriend, actress Phoebe Jonas, and longtime manager John Traver.
“One of the most important things any human can experience is to be a part of a community and feel connected to where you live and to other people who live there, especially in a job like mine,” Rudd, told the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Although the new owners changed the name of the shop to Samuel’s Sweet Shop, little else is different. Except for maybe the fact that sometimes, you’ll find someone like Rudd serving coffee or talking with customers from behind the cash register.
Here he is in a recent social media post, drinking some of Samuel’s famous brew.
“When Ira passed away, like everyone else in town, we thought, what’s going to happen to Samuel’s?” Julie Rudd told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “We don’t want to lose Samuel’s. When the idea came that maybe we should try to save it and keep it going, it wasn’t so much about the candy, it was about, this is a meeting place in the community and a place that brings joy to the community and kids love to come and we just really want to keep that going.”
The store celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019 and has recently expanded its outdoor seating. For more information about the business or to find out more about its products (which include samplers of its owners’ favorite items), visit the Samuel’s Sweet Shop website.