Monday, June 15, 2009
Universal CityWalk for Candy Lovers
On Friday I took a little trip up to Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios to see what the state of candy is there.
This wasn’t the first time I was there, I visited with Sera from The Candy Enthusiast last summer, but this time it was during the day and I had more time to browse around and take notes (instead of just buying candy).
There are three main shops that have candy and each offers a bit of a different menu.
This shop is quite bold and colorful. The inventory is also pretty wide. It includes many fine chocolate bars from local companies like Chuao to brands like Santander, Ritter Sport, Valor, Cadbury, Green & Blacks, Lindt & Ghirardelli and packaged chocolate candies from Turin & Marich plus some generic chocolate blocks.
But what is most interesting about this shop, especially for those who are travelers and want to experience something different, is the candy case.
On my first visit there I picked up some fun items like candied pumpkin and candied sweet potato. This time around all these seemed to have were tamarind balls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and only two varieties of a version of dulce de leche that’s like a Mexican style Penuche. Then there were the mango & chili items plus other traditional tamarind confections.
The prices were decent, especially for the fudge. For the prepackaged chocolate bars it’s quite a bit steeper. For the Ritter Bars they were $3, the Valor were $5 ... a stop a the Target or Cost Plus World Market within a stone’s through would be about a third off.
Then there’s the stuff in the barrels. Real Mexican candy like Pulparindo, Pelon Pelo Rico, de la Rosa Mazapan & ChiliBonchas. All for the low, low price of $11.90 per pound. Go to just about any grocery store in Los Angeles and the same stuff is about $2 or $3. But hey, that’s what vacation is all about - overpaying for most of the things you don’t allow yourself to buy at home.
The nice thing is that theming isn’t like everything else. It’s not sterile, it’s not overly precious ... it’s just a candy shop that acts like a candy shop. The counter help seemed rather knowledgeable about their candy offerings and seemed partial to the flavors of the Mexican & Latin American items. They also serve hot chocolate.
Sparky’s is more than a candy store, think of it as a gift store with a collector’s bent. They have Pez, lots and lots of Pez. Plus other little items in licensed lines Hello Kitty, Betty Boop and Hot Wheels.
They have the standard bulk candies like Jelly Belly and a rather large selection of specialty flavored taffy. But mostly they have packaged candy with the theme of classics & nostalgic offerings. Theater size boxes of all the standards (that are usually on sale for a dollar at the drug store are $3 here). Hard to find candy bars like Sky Bar, every flavor of Charleston Chew, all of the Annnabelle’s bars, Clark Bars, Idaho Spuds and Bottlecaps. Those felt a little more reasonable at $1.50 (my local 7-11 is charging $1.29 for candy bars now).
The staff here also seemed to really know their candy, I witnessed as they were able to direct a customer to a bar based only on the description of it (turned out to be a Sky Bar).
This completely tricked out and themed candy store is the largest by far. The spartan white walls & displays include some amazing original art direction.
Instead of going for childish renditions of candy & rainbows, they’ve done some really nice work here to set themselves apart. It’s part Sephora and part Juicy Couture. (Definitely geared towards women.) Glam candy. Pre-sexualized for your fetish-ization.
I know it sounds like I’m critical of it, but I rather enjoyed the imaginative photos gracing the walls - women swimming with Swedish Fish. Gummi Worms eaten with chopsticks by a stylized Geisha. A full on 18th Century French pouf wig made of red licorice on a starkly powdered face with bright lips to match (image here).
The bulk bins go for $11.60 a pound and feature mostly sugar candy. They have a nice selection of dextrose candy like Cry Baby Tears and more generic items in different shapes & colors like Runts & bananas. There are plenty of gummis, from single flavor bears from Albanese to some of their more spectacular creations like the Gummy Butterflies. Gummi cherries & Peach Rings as well as the various sour belts. Then there are standards like Good n Plenty, licorice twists, Lemonheads, Cinnamon bears, Hot Tamales and so on. There is a small selection of chocolate items in bulk, just chocolate covered nuts, a few gourmet malt balls and mini Butterfinger type bars.
In the candy bar area, they are similarly stocked & priced as Sparky’s, though they carry a few more of the penny candy style items like paper dots and wax lips.
Then at the very back of the store is the M&Ms Color Wall. Every color of M&MS you could want, make your own custom mix. (Same with Jelly Belly.)
I found the Wazoo bars there (very hard to come by these days) so I picked up the Wild Berriez I hadn’t tried yet and some pretty looking dextrose candies, a crazy set of gumballs plus a few other munchables. I got out of there for less than $5 and my parking validated.
The biggest selling point, besides just a fun place to gawk at candy is the merchandising of candy brands. You can get ear buds branded with Sugar Babies, lip balm or gloss in a gajillion different candy flavors, coffee mugs, crazy tee shirts, a Twizzlers messenger bag, pillows shaped like your favorite candies ... there’s a lot of non-edible stuff in there.
IT’SUGAR is a small chain with stores in all the hot tourist spots: Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach plus smaller outposts in Miami, Long Island, San Diego, London, Manchester, New York City, Las Vegas and Ft. Lauderdale.
There’s definitely something to satisfy your sweet tooth if you’re at Universal CityWalk. (The insiders trick is to valet park for 2 hours for free with validation on weekday afternoons, see their current rules.)
Universal Sudios CityWalk (Hollywood)