Within the first few days of Dulcelandia opening its first shop on 51st and Kedzie, the Mexican candy and piñata store made about $20,000 in profit. The fact that the opening coincided with Halloween of 1995 was a big help, but the immediate success indicated the Rodriguez family had tapped into a niche of hungry shoppers.
“A lot of candy [my father] grew up with wasn’t available here, so a lot of it is about nostalgia,” says Eduardo Rodriguez, one of the twin brothers now running Dulcelandia. “Mexico is a huge candy manufacturer.”
Seventeen years later, Dulcelandia has seven locations. While the majority of shoppers are Hispanic, the percentage of non-Hispanic consumers has steadily increased, particularly around Cinco de Mayo (the only time of year the shop brings in Mexican independence flags and fake moustaches; both are big sellers). Piñatas—hundreds of them—hang from the ceiling, rest on mounds of candy and line up five rows deep along the periphery of the room. And as goofy as they might look (Smurfs, Disney princesses, shiny stars, even one with a Chicago Bulls logo), they’re artisan goods, handpainted and painstakingly handmade with shredded strips of colored paper, cardboard and newspaper in Mexico.
As for the candy, don’t expect to find Hershey’s chocolates or Twizzlers on these shelves. What you will find: mango lollipops shaped like chicken breasts and thighs, marshmallows in every color of the rainbow, wheat snacks and chili- and tamarind-laced sweets imported from Mexico, individually wrapped and sold in mass quantities for piñata filling. There’s a small section of candies without the chili, too, for those whose taste buds aren’t accustomed to the Mexican twist.
Locations citywide, dulcelandia.com; the Brighton Park location (4616 S Kedzie Ave, 773-247-4354 ) is pictured here.