Conversation With: St. Maarten Candy Man
He answers to the name Candy Man, or if you are inclined, Mr. Candy Man. Born, bred, and raised in Toronto, Ontario, he and his boardwalk candy store have been leaving the tourists and locals of St. Maarten smiling with their sweet-tooths for the past five years.
Such his personable nature, it is impossible for him to refrain from sharing pleasantries to a revolving door of customers, or a good story or two. Myles Herod sits down with the St. Maarten Candy Man to discuss everything from candy to his life in paradise.
When did you move to St. Maarten?
CM: Well, I was on vacation with my mom five-and-a-half years ago. My mom was bugging me to take a vacation, and I hadn’t had one in about 16 years.
That’s certainly a long time…
CM: Well, she was bugging me every day so finally I said, “Ok, shut up! I’ll go.” It ended up changing my life. I was here five-and-a-half years ago and as soon as I got to the Caribbean I told myself, “I want to move to an island.” I picked St. Maarten because it is commercial. So, what I decided was I’d come back to get a job. Fast forward two weeks – I had to wait two weeks, or I should say, they make you wait two weeks – I fly back here for three weeks and I walked for about nine-and-a-half hours from Mullet Bay all the way back to Philipsburg. Huge distance. On my walk, I went to every grocery store, casino, restaurant, and hotel looking for a job. Nothing. Seemed the only way to stay on the island is to open up your own business.
What’s your fascination with candy?
CM: I’ve always loved candy, but I stopped. My brother is my dentist and after two years he said, “If you keep on doing this and eating candy you are not getting any more free work.” So I stopped. Now I do my almonds, my nuts, and cheeses. Sure, every now and then I stuff my face.
What ultimately led to you leaving Canada permanently?
CM: I didn’t. My store just evolved. I didn’t do any marketing studies, age bracket surveys or anything. I like candy, that’s the only reason. It just evolved. If my mom hadn’t pushed me, and I tell kids all the time that come in here, “Listen to your parents, they know what they’re doing.” If it weren’t for my mom pushing me to do something, I wouldn’t be here. And she’s proud of me. She’s 88. We say goodnight to each other every night. She skypes me on her iPad.
Thanks to your mom, you began a new life and career…
CM: You know, after only the first six months, I started appreciating all the little things. The friendly people – it’s like a mid-west town, the weather is gorgeous, there’s no hangovers after partying…
CM: We’re at sea level, the air is fresher. I can’t explain it, but it’s amazing. Getting back to what I was saying, you start to appreciate everything. You see everyone honking horns on all the islands to say hello. In Toronto, it’s like, “Get the expletive out of my way!” A lot of things are reverse. My priorities have changed. I don’t need to be the first one to get the HTC Touch Diamond smartphone from Rogers. I owned a sports car in the past, which I loved and washed constantly. I don’t need that anymore. I have two wheels with my scooter and I haven’t washed it yet! My money is not number one.
CM: I don’t wear a watch. I don’t make schedules unless I go back to Canada.
You’re on island time.
CM: Exactly. It’s day, it’s light, it’s dark, it’s night. No pressure. No stress. No keeping up with the Joneses. Nobody cares and that’s good.
Candy and snacks are universal. You find them everywhere and anywhere. Take me back to your entrepreneurial thought process five-and-a-half years ago?
CM: In the beginning, there were two things I went to the island for. Number one, hot sauce. I love my peppers. I found hot sauce, but candy? Hard to come by. But that didn’t open my mind. This place happened to be vacant. It’s a great location. I lucked out. Someone was looking over me. My angel of candy.
At which point did you say to yourself, “Hey, I got a good thing here.”
CM: Right away. Although, it didn’t matter. I was having so much fun. Island consensus is that after about a year-and-a-half or two years you get island fever and you lose interest. Not me. I’ve been here five years and every time I’m driving my scooter on the highway, and I see the beach, I scream. You know the line, “Gooood morning, Vietnam?”
From the Robin Williams movie?
CM: You got it. Well, I go, “Gooood morning, St. Maarten!”
What are your thoughts on a competing store taking away business? Say, Walmart?
CM: I wouldn’t be afraid. I don’t want to brag. My ego isn’t big, but aside from the candy, people come to see me. I love talking to people. I have tourists coming in just to say hi. And sometimes, we’ll have a little brandy, a little drink. It’s fun.
Lets talk candy. What’s your biggest seller?
CM: Everything moves. I know what to buy, product placement, where to put things, eye placement, all that stuff. I switch things around. If it doesn’t sell I move it up the shelf. Basically everything in this store, except three things, I like. I’m really selfish. I don’t buy stuff I wouldn’t eat. Jujubes? Can’t stand them. Stick to your teeth.
How important is it to stock candies that are representative of various countries and cultures?
CM: Big. We’re on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, the town of Philipsburg, so I have, they call them ‘Drops,’ which is salty black licorice from Holland. I don’t like it. Nasty to me. If you can believe it though, there’s three levels of salt to these things: zoet, which is sweet; zoot, which is more salty and dubbelzoot, which I just call “stupid salty.” I like to accommodate, so I have as much Dutch candy as I can hold. I also have local stuff, like sugar cakes, which I call coconut cakes – it’s coconut, raw brown sugar and ginger. Hugely popular throughout the Caribbean. And from Trinidad, I have Diana Power Mints. People come in for just one sometimes. It clears your sinuses. Powerful stuff. But the key is, you have to listen to locals and what they like.
Who supplies your stock?
CM: I have candy come in from around the world. I get my gummies from Spain. Haribo Gummies, in fact. You can’t find better gummies. Besides your basic American stuff like Skittles or Hershey, I have my friends bring me Coffee Crisps from Canada. Life Brand snacks from Shopper’s Drug Mart in the past, too. Good product.
Your business card makes me laugh. It states that you, “[D]on’t sell drugs, only candy by the gram.” Do you have people coming into your store seeking illicit things?
CM: Occasionally. Tourists pop their heads in wondering what kind of store this is. They think I sell illicit products, or I’m an adult store. People have asked me for very strange things.
CM: Cigarettes, soap, booze, stamps, viagra, condoms. I just send them to the Pharmacy down the boardwalk. Look at it this way, if you grow up in Europe, France for example, kids drink wine. Here it’s cannabis. It’s the Caribbean. It’s a way of life and I was trying to be humorous. St. Maarten is a safe island, but you have to be cautious. I frequently catch Toronto CityPulse news, and I see all this bad stuff back home. Stuff happens here, too. You have to be careful. I have friends on the police force that look after me. They come in with their kids and say, “Don’t mess with the Candy Man.”
Tell me, with all your experiences, what do you know for sure?
CM: I’m here today, I’m having fun today. This is me now. This is where I live. When I die I want my ashes spread across the bay. I have everything I need. Good friends, great business, great weather. See, I don’t think about these things, I just do them. For example, I put my bubble machine on outside and when I see a little kid smiling, local or tourist, that makes my day.
Hmm, candy also makes people happy. I’m beginning to see a parallel…
CM: When people are in a bad mood, owning a candy store is a great business. They come in and they take a bigger bag! See, when I was in the bar business back in Toronto, you know, it’s a tough business. Here I’ve never had to cut anyone off for eating too much candy. I surround myself with people who are always on vacation. So I’m happy every day. It’s freaking me out. I have to slap myself once a week.