You don’t have to be a child to be dazzled by the sight of shelves brimming with colorful candy. Walk off the sidewalk of South Congress into Big Top Candy Shop, and chocolate-covered happiness will whisk away any troubles you were carrying around outside the door.
This isn’t your shopping-mall-style candy store. And it isn’t your toy/candy variety store. Since 2007, Big Top has concentrated on candy, candy, and more candy with the kind of laser-beam focus that tends to lead to success.
And lead to success it has. Though the store’s average sale is around $6.50, there’s almost always a line on weekends and during special events. Customers are able to find candy that reminds them of their childhood, or candy that they’ve only ever seen overseas. A soda fountain with Blue Bell ice cream and various drink offerings is the other aspect of Big Top’s unique business model that keeps visitors coming back (especially on hot Texas days).
What other local business has won an Austin Chronicle “Best Of” award before they even opened for business?
What You’ll Find at Big Top Candy Shop
Big Top has more than 300 kinds of bulk candy, priced by the 1/4 lb., and more than 2,000 kinds of wrapped candy! You’ll find all of your Willy Wonka favorites, bins of salt water taffy, and seasonal candies.
Big Top has authentic foreign candy from countries like France and the UK. I was delighted to find three flavors of Aero, a UK chocolate bar that you can find across our northern border in Canada.
When we asked Brandon about his favorite candy, he told us about Moro bars. He described them as giant Twix, with caramel and a soft, crumbly cookie. Rare candy is Big Top’s specialty.
If you can only eat so much candy, don’t forget about the soda fountain. Choose from ice cream favorites like floats, milkshakes or sundaes. Or try a New York confection, the Egg Cream Soda. Brandon says this is Big Top’s best fountain selection and a “point of pride.” It’s an old drink that you can still find in New York delis, made with a specific brand of chocolate syrup, milk and carbonated water. I tried the Egg Cream Soda on my most recent trip to Big Top. I’ve never tasted anything like it, and I’m curious to know what you think about it!
The Tale of Big Top Candy Shop’s Founding
Big Top owner Brandon Hodge started doing business on South Congress before the district became a tourist hotspot. Over a decade ago, he managed a “funky little gift shop” called Lone Star Illusions. At the end of 2004, a retail space opened up at 1712 S. Congress. Lone Star Illusions had closed, so Brandon decided to open his own store in the available space. Monkey See Monkey Do became a store for “eclectic gifts and funky kitsch.” “It was what I knew,” Brandon says.
Brandon was instrumental in founding First Thursday on South Congress, a monthly block party that showcased local business. Now established as a successful business leader, Brandon’s landlord asked whether he had any other business ideas. He pitched the idea of a candy shop and the concept was accepted. Located just a few doors south of Monkey See, Big Top began to take shape.
But there was a problem. “I thought the space was way too big. I had these candy catalogs and I could envision how all of the products were going to fit. I literally ordered the whole catalog on my first order, and it still didn’t fill the shelves.”
Desperate to fill the space, Brandon decided to add the soda fountain. “I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I had blown everything I had on this candy,” Brandon recollected. Still left with empty space, Brandon added framed photographs that have become staples. Walk in today and you’ll find humorous circus-themed photos that have been Photoshopped to feature Brandon and his employees.
Big Top took five months to open. During that time, banners were plastered over the front windows with teasers like “Cavalcade of Perfection: Big Top.” Brandon would peel back some of the banners throughout the day to build anticipation.
“I never expected Big Top to eclipse Monkey See, but it has – tenfold,” says Brandon. With national coverage and recognition from USA Today as one of the “10 great candy stores across the USA,” Big Top’s reputation has only grown.
National hype or not, Big Top has its doors open for Austin locals at 1706 South Congress, seven days/week. If you’re never been before, you’re in for a sweet surprise.
What is your favorite candy store in Austin?