Located in the heart of Austin’s beloved SoCo shopping district at 1706 South Congress, the Big Top Candy Shop is a charming old-fashioned candy store that is both a candy lover’s delight and a dentist’s worst nightmare.
Brandon Hodge, owner of both Big Top Candy Shop and its sister store, Monkey See, Monkey Do!, has had a long love-affair with South Congress that began when he started visiting Austin in the early ’90s. He is a strong advocate for protecting South Congress and the eccentric flavor of the now world-famous shopping district.
“SoCo isn’t a secret little hangout anymore, but I still get to enjoy it the same as I always have,” says Hodge. “The local spirit has been preserved.”
Hunting Giant Jelly Belly on Safari and the Circus-and-Sideshow Mythology
Hodge recalls initial plans for a very small candy shop to lure pedestrian traffic down to his existing toy store, Monkey See, Monkey Do!
“When a deal on a small space fell through, I was offered our much larger current space, and Big Top was born!” recalls Hodge. “Of course, with all that extra space, I had the option to explore things like the soda fountain that wasn’t part of the original plan but has been integral to our success.”
A magical place with vintage circus-themed posters, antique horned instruments and eclectic circus collectibles adorning its high walls, Big Top is rich in museum-like circus history.
“The circus-and-sideshow theme is so much deeper than mere decoration. It is ingrained in our mythology. Back in the days when we had less candy and more pictures on display, for example, you could literally stroll through Big Top and get the whole story of our fabricated 100+-year history, told through old photos of clown troupes chomping on Charleston Chews, elephants stealing Abba Zabas from their handlers, and myself hunting giant Jelly Belly on safari with Teddy Roosevelt,” says Hodge with a laugh. “That’s obviously still a big part of Big Top, and more than a mere Bennigan’s-like scheme of just hanging antiques from every nook and cranny. At Big Top, if there’s a fire-blacked banjo on the wall, you can bet it has a story ingrained in this fabricated mythology we’ve crafted for ourselves.”
Soda Jerks, Candy Clerks and Concocting a Bizarre Formula of Success
Big Top’s soda jerks and candy clerks hand craft ice cream sodas, shaved ice, banana splits and heaping ice cream scoops at their fully functioning old-fashioned soda station. The shop is known to have Dublin Dr. Pepper, which is made with real sugar cane, rather than corn syrup. Big Top’s soda jerks enjoy flipping through the 1921 Dispenser’s Formulary that is the source of most of the recipes and formulas they serve up.
“Our soda jerks and, by extension, our soda fountain, are amazing. They are like unique mad scientists, concocting their own bizarre formula of milk shakes, malts, sundaes, sodas, egg creams, and shaved ice,” explains Hodge. “Some experiments stick, like the cucumber soda, which is wildly popular during the summer. Other kinds come and go as word catches on locally and we get swamped for a certain combination of drink, which eventually gets replaced by a new craze. It’s wonderful to watch.”
A Sweet Trip Down Memory Lane and the Joy of Chocolate-Covered Bacon
A nostalgic candy selection provides a sweet trip down memory lane. Bring your grandmother and you’re sure to find some of her favorites from long ago. Big Top aims to keep candy in stock from decades past, making it fun to stop in to rediscover your childhood sweet tooth.
In addition to the ever-popular soda fountain, Big Top is a candy land with giant rainbow pinwheel lollipops, PEZ dispensers, dozens of flavored taffies, Ring Pops, Rock Candy, Jelly Bellies and Jaw Breakers. Visit their bulk candy section for dozens of varieties of taffy, chocolates and caramels. They’ve got chocolate-covered everything, but some of the resident favorites include chocolate-covered s’mores and chocolate-covered orange peels. While you’re there, make sure to sample what Hodge calls the perennial favorite, chocolate-covered bacon.
“There’s just something about the salty, savory sweetness offset with the chocolate and the sprinkled sea salt that just fires on all receptors,” says Hodge.
Colorful, Playful and Totally SoCo
Big Top Candy Shop opened in October of 2007 on Austin’s South Congress strip. The sign out front proclaims “Open ‘til we close!” but the website says business hours are generally Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Big Top normally stays open on the first Thursday of every month, usually until 10 p.m.
“To be able to weave a few threads through the tapestry of South Congress is just an incredible honor,” says Hodge. “I’m glad to add some playful, colorful fabric to the mix.”