Some of the best childhood memories are connected to food—sweet treats in particular. Most everyone can recall their first solo trip to the candy store to spend a bit of pocket change on something crunchy, gooey and delicious. Those mouthwatering memories are still created everyday at Candyland in downtown Stillwater.
Owned by two generations of the Lamb family since 1981, Candyland has been a Minn. fixture since the early 20th century. Brandon Lamb tells how his parents Doug and Brenda, at only 21 and 19 years old, purchased the business, originally located only in St. Paul, from Arnie Kelsey who’d owned Candyland since 1938. Ownership prior to 1938 is a bit sketchy according to Brandon. But Kelsey and the Lambs were only ever interested in the sweet success of Candyland selling flavored popcorn and candy. And successful it is now with four locations across St. Paul, Minneapolis and right here in the St. Croix Valley.
“Popcorn has been our bread and butter for 86 years,” Brandon says as he chuckles at the expression. Chicago Mix is the company’s trademark combination of caramel, cheddar cheese and signature seasoned popcorn. Each store pops its own corn fresh and much of it is mail ordered and shipped all over the U.S. This makes Candyland popcorn and candy products perfect for care packages sent to your favorite college students, grandchildren or friends who’ve moved far from home.
Popcorn can be colored for seasonal for special events like red, white and blue for Independence Day or even purple to celebrate Prince .
Brandon says, “Arnie loved candy and began adding lines” of candy for purchase early in the store’s history. “We’ve only ever used real cane sugar and real butter. The key is to stick with the core components. It’s what people want,” he explains. Brandon says Candyland’s commitment to quality means, “all of our non-GMO products taste delicious.”
Brandon is one of four Lamb children who all work in the business. He quips about being born in the back of the St. Paul store. Not really—but it surely felt that way since daycare wasn’t really a thing back in the 1980s and small business ownership is often a family affair. “I always had an interest in small business,” Brandon says. “I worked with my parents and learned the business. It meant less freedom for me than other teenagers. But I wanted a cell phone and a car so I had to work.” It’s those core values evident throughout the Lamb family that are clearly part of what makes Candyland so special. Although sampling is a big part of the job—and likely the most awesome part—the staff also hand prepares all of the shop’s pecan turtles, butter toffee bars, nut clusters, s’mores and marshmallow cream. “Our employees have no specific job titles,” Brandon says. “Everybody needs to know how to dip chocolate and make caramels and brittles.” Family ties mean Brandon’ own young sons frequent the store, maybe in preparation of yet another generation of candy makers. What could be better than your dad owning a candy store? But a parent must be cautious. Brandon’s 7-year-old has already discovered he can request a caramel-dipped marshmallow in this marvelous shop.
In addition to the handmade treats, Candyland stocks a wide variety of novelty candies from colorful lollipops to virtually every type of gummy animal and insect. This is not the place of contemporary commercial candy. This is a wonderland of nostalgia and throwback flavors recognizable by generations of candy lovers. “Did you know that jelly beans are one of the most ‘retro’ candies still available?” Brandon says. “Jelly beans date back to the Civil War.” And Candyland stocks scoop upon scoop of these sweet snacks in a rainbow of flavors. Regarding the candy selection, shoppers regularly say, “I didn’t know they still made these.”
Part of what Brandon loves about his job is that most Candyland shoppers are being thoughtful—often looking for a gift for someone else. But also, that anyone can still purchase something sweet to eat with just a bit of pocket change, just like you could nearly a century ago.