By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Whether it’s candy, ice cream, soda, or any other sweet treat, Chris Beers probably has it. In 2012, he opened Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop in the Strip District, hoping to create a candy store where people could buy in bulk or by the piece, while capturing the whimsy of the candy stores of old.
Since opening, Beers has expanded the flagship store twice, adding a massive collection of 225 soda varieties and an ice cream parlor. He also opened an additional eight stores in the greater Pittsburgh area and Ohio.
What was the inspiration behind Grandpa Joe’s?
I wanted to open up a candy store, a destination, chocolate, you name it, floor to ceiling, just packed with candy. I think I pulled that off pretty good. If you understand my obsession with ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ once you see the twisted sense of how that movie was, where Grandpa Joe couldn’t get out of bed for 20 years, but as soon as there was a chance for free chocolate, he was up and dancing and happy about life, then you’ll understand how my mind works, and understand all the nostalgic, weird gifts and quirks we have here.
Why did you set up shop in the Strip District?
I love the Strip District. Everything about the Strip, the grittiness of the Strip District and the history the Strip has. This is where Pittsburgh comes to find stuff that they can’t find anywhere else. This is where Pittsburgh comes to show off the city to the friends and family that come in from out of town. I don’t know how I fell in love with the Strip, but for as long as I can remember, the Strip has been the fun place to be in Pittsburgh.
Have you had any crazy or unusual requests from customers?
Occasionally, I get phone calls of people who have ‘candy emergencies,’ and that always makes me laugh, because how do you have a ‘candy emergency?” Most recently, we had a customer who needed 60 pounds of foil-wrapped chocolate basketballs. I once had a phone call from a pretty large company here in Pittsburgh, and they needed 40 pounds of every color of the rainbow, and they needed it within 30 minutes delivered downtown. We were able to make it happen for them, but those requests happen quite frequently. It’s always surprising when someone calls and has a ‘candy emergency.’ It’s something I never thought I would deal with in the candy business.
Do some of your candy selections surprise people?
“Customers are always surprised when a candy existed for a long time, and now they can’t find it any more. 50 years ago, candy didn’t find its way from California to Pennsylvania, so if you wanted Abba-Zaba or Rocky Road or The Look Bar or The Big Hunk Bar, those were common in California because Annabelle Candy Company made them there. Now, we carry them here, so people who are from the West Coast are always surprised that they can find West Coast candy here in Pittsburgh.
What are some of your favorite selections from your inventory?
My favorites in the shop would include Happy Hippos. They’re a product imported from the UK, and they’re a little biscuit shaped like a hippo, with a chocolate-creme center, and they’re flipping amazing. We also have Curly-Wurly Bars, which were called Marathon Bars in America. It’s chocolate and caramel braided into a bar that’s about twelve inches long. Really good item, really hard to find, of course we have it here!