Walking inside Sweet Mickey’s retro-styled candy store on Ballard Avenue, I was expecting to learn more about the eternal appeal of crafted sugar in all its forms and flavors. I’ve toured jelly bean factories and chocolate production lines, but Sweet Mickey’s is a next-level candy destination. As we begin this year’s season of sugarplums, candy canes, chocolate coins and gingerbread houses, I had the chance to chat with one of Seattle’s best known candy lovers, and I wanted to find out how he spins his sugar-coated magic.
The Candyman In Chief
Randy Brinker, Sweet Mickey’s Candyman in Chief, greeted me from behind the counter, where carefully wrapped portions of his freshly made fudge and truffles are on display. The fudge, and many other sweet memories, come courtesy of his own Grandma Mickey, the shop’s inspiration and namesake. Mickey ran a party supply shop where she sold her prized baked goods, candies and all the trimmings for birthdays, weddings and celebrations. Randy remembers the heavenly smells of cakes and cookies that came from her kitchen, and the impact she made on the lives of everyone in their small Missouri town. Mickey knew her sweets, and she knew how to make people happy.
Now when customers walk through Randy’s shop, it’s clear they are smiling, even through the masks we now wear as part of COVID precautions. Randy’s gone to great lengths to make sure all of his products are offered in the safest possible way. Customers first stop at a hand sanitizing station and are reminded to mask-up and keep their six feet of distance, but to also “be sweet.” Easy to do in this dream of a candy store, as the sun streamed through the storefront windows onto mint-striped walls. I was feeling sweeter already.
Something For Everyone
Randy stocks his shop with everything from Abba Zabba to Zotz, but there is much more to Sweet Mickey’s than what’s on the shelves. Our conversation quickly turned from favorite childhood sugar bombs and holiday preparations to the exceptional neighborhood we were in, and how grateful Randy is to be a part of historic Ballard, where community spirit runs deep.
Ballard’s tradition of pitching in and supporting one another goes back to its early roots as a Scandinavian village for fishermen and millworkers. While the last mill closed decades ago, and a handful of boat repair docks remain, that commitment lives on in people like Randy. He loves giving back to the neighborhood, and contributes extra time to seasonal events, like organizing Ballard’s annual holiday Tomte Trail so families can “window shop” and hunt for gnomes hiding in the displays, completing the game to win a chance at a Nordic Museum membership.
His shop sees visitors with excited kids, 30-somethings reliving their childhoods and grandparents needing a sugar rush coming through the door each day. To better serve his regulars who can’t make it in person these days, Sweet Mickey’s is now offering local delivery of custom-filled gift boxes. Ordering a gift box is as easy as calling in with your wish list and budget, and the shopkeepers do the rest. When the virus restrictions ease up in the new year, Randy’s looking forward to the return of a regular group of knitters from the nearby retirement home who came once a week to use his party room, which was set up for small groups and classes. He’d put on a pot of coffee for them so they could spend a few hours catching up around the large work table. He misses their laughter and hearing their stories while their knitting needles clicked away. “That’s the kind of real connection we’re here for,” Randy says. “I can’t wait to get back to that.”
Browsing the color-packed shelves is like going on a sensory world tour. I found tiny Guinness chocolate glasses from Ireland, Danish salted licorice, bottles of Tabasco “hot sauce” jelly beans and the famously squishy, squirty exploding Asian jelly fruits that are a global sensation, guaranteed to make a mess even if you don’t become TikTok famous while eating them. Movie theatre boxes filled with classics like Dots, Whoppers or Sugar Babies are best-sellers, since so many people are now doing “movie night” at home instead of in theatres. I will freely admit to leaving the shop with my own hord of handmade fudge, including sea salt caramel and some velvety-smooth peanut butter for my special someone. Sweet Mickey’s is one of the only places I’ve found that makes the kind of divinity fudge my mom adores, so I’ll be going back to pick up a special order in time for Christmas.
Keeping up on trends while supplying his regulars with the classic snacks they crave is Randy’s mission. It’s personal to him, listening to what clients want, delighting them with an unexpected find, and creating a lasting connection with the people who come in. He learned from the best and wants to bring back some of the feelings he had watching his beloved grandmother create a sense of joy and community with everything she made. Seeing Randy at work, Grandma Mickey would certainly be proud.
Photos by: Sweet Mickey’s