Sweet on nostalgia

Source - Palo Alto Online
Published - November 25, 2015
Original Article

Sweet on nostalgia

Tin lunch boxes hang from the ceiling while a steady playlist of Styx, ABBA and Bob Seger plays softly in the background. At the counter, a customer does the twist as he buys a bottle of soda.

With its collection of old-fashioned candies, strange soda flavors (ranging from ranch dressing to peach), Rocket Fizz aims to stoke feelings of childhood nostalgia.

The first Rocket Fizz opened in Camarillo, California, in 2009. The company has since grown to more than 60 franchises across the nation, including one in Palo Alto, which opened on University Avenue in 2012. Another store is set to open on Castro Street in Mountain View later this year.

At Rocket Fizz Palo Alto, manager Nichole Daviar said she has sampled nearly every candy the store sells (although she stays clear of the bacon section) and can recite a catalog of candy-centered trivia.

"Not a lot of people know this: There are two Kit Kats," she confided. "There's Hershey's and Nestle. They add in their ingredients differently."

Daviar, who previously worked for Rocket Fizz in Campbell, said the best part about working around candy is that her customers are always in good spirits. Regularly, customers will inquire about a candy they remember from their childhood, she noted, and more often than not, it can be found in the store.

"They tell us it makes them feel like a child again," she said.

Among the much sought-after candies are Mountain Bars (a chocolate-and-peanut bar with flavored filling, created in 1915), Big Hunks (a nougat bar popularized in the 1950s), Idaho Spud (a marshmallow coated in chocolate and coconut, in production since 1918) and Astro Pops (a pointed hard candy inspired by the three-stage rocket and launched in 1963).

"I still haven't found another place that sells Astro Pops," Daviar said. "It's hard for us to get them, so when we do, we order, like, 10 boxes."

In addition to old-school candy, Rocket Fizz sells gag gifts and toys like shock pens, squirting lighters, Whoopee Cushions, smoke bombs and a horse-head feeder for squirrels.

Surprisingly, Halloween isn't the store's busiest holiday, Daviar said. Christmas is its peak, with customers pouring in to search for stocking stuffers and special Christmas candy.

"Target and Walmart (have) their Christmas candy, but we try to have things that you can't find in those stores," Daviar said.

And Rocket Fizz aims to have something for everyone.

For the Star Wars, Hello Kitty or Doctor Who fan, Rocket Fizz carries themed tin lunch boxes ($17.99), available in a number of sizes and designs.

For coffee and tea drinkers who double as animal lovers, the Shark Attack, Squirrel Attack and Octopus Attack mugs (each $11.99) feature a small white figurine of the animal at the bottom.

For those invested in maintaining their Elvis-style pompadour hairstyles, there's the push-button pocket comb ($6.29).

The store also boasts a collection of Pez dispensers. An employee for Palo Alto Rocket Fizz attends Pez conventions (yes, that's a real thing) and brings back both rare and popular designs, said Rocket Fizz employee Zakiyya Stephens. Individually packed dispensers go for $2.99, while special collector's packages with Harry Potter or Star Wars characters go for $49.99.

And then there's the candy-shop stand-by: saltwater taffy. At Rocket Fizz, flavor options abound: chocolate, root beer, candy corn, pineapple, mango. A small bag goes for $5.99, a large bag, $8.99.

"If you don't know what to get someone, who doesn't like taffy?" Stephens said.

Rocket Fizz also offers custom-made gift baskets, which range in price from $15 to $35.

Odd-flavored and classic sodas are abundant at the store, from maple syrup, key lime pie and green apple jalapeno to gingerbread and chocolate. Individual bottles are $2.19, while a four-pack is $8.29.

Rocket Fizz may not stock every candy in the world, but it comes pretty close. There's even an international section featuring Mexican, European and Japanese candies. And employees are always open to customer suggestions, Daviar said. Just ask.

"We can try to look into it and find it so we can provide it," she said. "We're all about keeping the customers happy."