In what could easily double as a mad scientist’s laboratory, tall shelves are lined with glass jars, test tubes and silver bags filled with impossibly tiny crystalline candies whose bold flavors include passion fruit, kiwi and soda. They’re crammed next to avant-garde pulled candy sculptures as artful as any Venetian blown glass; candy sushi (complete with chopsticks); life-size candy jamon iberico; sugary sabertooth tigers, bears, rabbits and ducks, and elegant twists of gold and topaz candy shaped into abstract pret a porter rings. In the corner, a woman stretches and pulls hot candy on a wall hook, while another breaks apart glassy black licorice sweets on the counter and hands them to customers, still warm.
Chances are, you’ve never seen anything like Papabubble, a shop that makes you feel like a sugar-crazed Indiana Jones, Willy Wonka’s luckiest apprentice, and a very hungry kid all at once. Started in 2004 by Australians Tommy Tang and Chris King, Papabubble began as an artisan candy shop in Barcelona. “They were looking for something different, unique…a sweet way to make the people in this world happier,” says Alejandro Siniawski, who took over the business in 2008 and now owns the worldwide chain.
Papabubble has locations in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Seoul, Taipei and Lisbon as well as a shop wedged between Little Italy and Soho in New York City, and there are plans to open stores in Moscow, Sao Paolo and Hong Kong later this year. The company employs 45 people worldwide, most of whom are hired for their enthusiasm, then trained onsite in the art of old-fashioned candy making – if what they do at Papabubble can be called old-fashioned.
Video of candy making at Papabubble in New York by Max Strebel. Music by Nico Korolog.
In the stores or online, customers snatch up vibrantly colored oversized lollipops, all manner of acid drops and soda-filled hard candies – each delicately hand-crafted and impeccably flavored. But Siniawski and his staff owe much of Papabubble’s success to customized offerings, everything from minuscule candies with customers’ names written inside to edible body parts “from almost every part of the human anatomy,” he says. “Every part.”
Papabubble’s candy makers have crafted candy trees and even a life-size 8-year-old girl made entirely of candy. According to Siniawski, whose previous and more staid career in management for companies like Cadbury didn’t likely involve sugar-and-glucose human beings, the best part of the whole process is seeing the looks on customers’ faces. “Sometimes you have to tell them to close their mouths,” he laughs. Luckily for those open mouths, Papabubble also sells gargantuan toothbrushes (topped with toothpaste, of course) and dentures made of sugar — though your dentist probably wouldn’t approve.