What does a chocolate scorpion taste like?
There are a few places to get old-time candy in Old Sacramento, but Candy Heaven, located at 1201 Front Street, stands out. Chalk it up to the store’s staggering variety of more than 1,000 candies, its unsettling toy clowns and the lanky Willy Wonka-esque proprietor Darrin Kreb. Kreb constantly interacts with his customers—handing out free samples or jokingly telling kids that the store is closed. His cartoon visage even adorns the Candy Heaven tote bags.
How did you come to own this business?
I used to work for another candy store for a couple of years, and I liked what I was doing, so I quit and opened my own. I just kind of threw it together in 30 days, and it’s been a big success. So I got very lucky. … In two months it will be 10 years.
Why Old Sacramento?
I just love the touristy kind of people down here. It’s a great place to be. I’m from Yuba City, but I’ve been in Sacramento for 20 years.
Do you interact with the tourists a lot?
Oh yeah, I’m hands-on. I love to clown around with people and talk them into superhot candies and sour candies and chocolate-covered insects and stuff. It’s fun.
What kind of international tourists do you get?
We get [tourists] from all over the place. Australia, Europe, just everywhere.
What are some of your best-selling candies?
The nostalgic candies are the top sellers. The Walnettos, Mary Janes, the taffy and the [Big Tex Hot-N-Spicy jelly beans] are a big hit.
Do you notice candy trends?
Sour candies are a real big hit right now. I like to give out samples of the Toxic Waste to people who come in, watch their faces twist up.
Is there a candy here that you would never eat or haven’t tried?
Yes, the insects. I haven’t tried that. All my employees have tried them, but I can’t do it. People have tried to get me to do it over and over again, but I just can’t. … It smells like death.
What insects do you have?
Chocolate-covered insects. I give out samples to everybody. I’ve been doing that for years. And we have chocolate scorpions and chocolate meal worms. We have a whole little section of bug candy.
How much candy do you eat in a given month?
Not that much. It kind of ruins it when you own it, I think. I pretty much don’t eat any candy at all. Every once in a while I’ll eat one of the Neopolitans. That’s my favorite.
Do people abuse the free-sample policy?
They do. We try to be as nice as we can, and tell them it’s just a couple of samples, but some people like to try to come in here and go to town. Some people think it’s a game, and they really try to go for it. You try to be as nice as you can, within reason. For the most part, people are good about it, but you get the few who try to take advantage.
What’s the biggest candy purchase you’ve seen someone make?
About $750 doing a candy bar for a wedding. … It happens all the time.
Tell me about the terrifying clowns.
I like to clown around, so I thought the clowns would be a great part of it all. When I’m down there, it’s like a stage for me. I like to have a good time with people. When I’m at work I’m like that, but when I’m at home I’m an introvert. I like to have a good time and see other people have a good time, too.
Do kids ever freak out when they see the clowns?
They do. Some kids won’t come in because of the clowns. Sometimes we have to turn the clowns off and bring them up here and show them it’s not real.
Have any celebrities visited Candy Heaven?
We’ve had a lot of celebs come in, a lot of the Kings players. Arnold Schwarzenegger came in here quite a few times. He liked the Australian licorice. His wife and kids have been in here many times.
Seems like candy is a recession-proof business.
It’s very recession-proof. We’re doing so well, we expanded the store six months ago. We added a chocolate counter and made more room to expand and get more candies.
At the end of the interview, Kreb had a change of heart and decided he would eat a chocolate-covered scorpion for the first time, as long as the reporter ate one, too.
I’ve never eaten a bug before—knowingly. I’m going to do this for the Sacramento News & Review only. One, two, three. Oh my God!
What do you think?
I think it just tastes like chocolate. Thank God. It doesn’t taste like scorpion. Think about the guts and eyeballs we’re eating! Oh, and the pinchers! It will never happen again. Only for News & Review!