Walking into Rocket Fizz on Haddon Avenue is overwhelming, a rainbow-colored explosion of sugar and fun.
It takes some time to fully digest the Westmont store’s offerings: more than 50 flavors of salt water taffy, retro candy like Pixy Stix and candy cigarettes, international offerings such as Pocky from Japan and Maltesers from the United Kingdom. There is even a whole sugar-free corner.
Don’t forget the soda; there are 500 different flavors. There are regional varieties, like North Carolina’s Cheerwine or Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia. Then there are the less appetizing but highly popular Rocket Fizz-brand flavors including Bug Barf, Alien Snot and Bloody Nose.
“They’re actually really good,” said Andrei Peruso, who works in the store. Most of them are fruity, he said, but singled out a chocolate-flavored soda. “The Dinosaur’s Dung is a popular one.”
After spending 13 years raising four children, Joann Ammazzaorsi was ready to go back to work when she caught an episode of “Undercover Boss” that features Rocket Fizz, a nationwide franchise. She recorded the episode and showed it to her husband Andrew.
“I saw it and I said, ‘I want that,’ '' Joann said.
They bought the franchise right away. It took them a while to find the location – they live in Woolwich but stumbled upon the Westmont storefront one weekend while on their way to look at a spot in Cherry Hill. The store opened six weeks after they signed the lease.
While they both own the franchise, it’s really Joann’s. Andrew works as a contractor and helps out at Rocket Fizz when he can.
The town is great, Andrew said, because customers, especially kids, easily can walk to the store. On the way out, customers can open their soda bottles on the vintage Coca-Cola vending machine Andrew bought from a friend’s auction house.
Yes, they have to show kids how to use it.
Rocket Fizz held a grand opening on June 18, but it has been open since May 10 and has had a steady stream of customers.
“People are in here for a half hour, 45 minutes just looking around,” Joann said. “The older people come in here all the time. They walk in and their eyes and faces light up.”
The throwback treats are popular with customers. Wax lips, Pixy Stix, horehound candies, Moon Pies. If it is within the Rocket Fizz distribution, they can track it down.
If the confectioner is still around, that is. “Someone was looking for teaberry gum and they didn’t make it anymore,” Joann said.
There also are gag gifts like fake vomit and relighting birthday candles, plus the metal lunchboxes and retro signs that decorate the walls.
There are even crunchy, dried crickets if you’re into that sort of thing. They aren’t that bad, Peruso insisted.
Peruso was walking his dog when he first passed the shop. He stopped and emailed his resume from his phone right outside the door.
“I grew up in this town,” he said. “I never saw anything like it.”
All three are still trying things in order to better make recommendations to customers. It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it, right?
“It’s a long process,” Andrew said. It’s almost like a childhood he never had, as he wasn’t allowed to have candy growing up.
Joann’s new favorites are some of the U.K. candies.
Peruso motioned to the Happy Hippo cookies made by Kinder: “I got you two hooked on those.”
“Some stuff we just got yesterday we haven’t ever seen before,” Joann said. She encourages customers to report back with reviews for things they buy; one girl described her Japanese treat like a combination of Pop Rocks and cotton candy.
Their kids are 10, 11, 13 and 14 and are in the store helping out most weekends, Joann said.
Already the Ammazzaorsis are on the hunt for another location.
“The people that come in come in with a big smile on their face,” Andrew said. “It’s a happy place.”