[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]he very first of its kind in Canada, CandyLabs is bringing authentic, handmade hard candies to Montreal and abroad. Despite having just opened back in October 2014, the store has already received a strong response from both locals searching for unique gifts and corporations looking to order customized treats in bulk. We went down to CandyLabs to speak with owners May He and Lin Geng about the hard candy tradition and witnessed the process firsthand.
CandyLabs’ visitors are welcomed by the sweet scent of candy and a display window, behind which you can watch the candy being made in store. The candy-making method they use was originally started around 300 years ago in England, and remains popular throughout Europe, Australia and Asia to this day.
“It’s a very old way to make candy,” May says, “but today we’re bringing it back.”
“They wanted to open a shop here to introduce this old tradition, but with new themes,” says their shopkeeper, Amy Yeung.
Searching for a business idea that would not only provide them with stimulating work day to day, but also put a smile on each customer’s face, the couple heard about the artisanal, hard-candy tradition through a friend and was immediately interested. After going to Australia to study with a professional confectioner, it wasn’t until their return to Montreal that they decided to open a candy shop of their own. Business partners as well as life partners, Lin and May couldn’t be happier with their decision.
“At first we were thinking of buying a restaurant, but it wouldn’t be as sweet as working here,” explains Lin. “Sugar has a certain nature that brings you joy — it’s in our metabolism. Our customers leave with this feeling of happiness, which is exactly what I want. This place is more than a candy store; just seeing customers leave with a smile is really fulfilling.”
“Sugar has a certain nature that brings you joy—it’s in our metabolism.”
For a company that opened so recently, CandyLabs has already generated quite a bit of business. While their customers have been primarily locals walking in to see what the store is about, they also produce special orders of customized candies for corporations and events.
“We make custom candies for orders that are 4 kilograms or more, because we actually need at least 4 kilograms of sugar to make customized candies,” Amy explains. According to May, they’re available to make customized candies for all kinds of events: weddings, baby showers, company parties, and everything else that could benefit from its own design or logo being made into candy. Most recently, May and Lin worked with a perfume company who wanted them to do a live candy-making demonstration.
“We’ve got an online store, so even those who aren’t from Montreal can still order our unique, artisan candies from Montreal,” May says. “We’ve already shipped some products to Ottawa — the customers were tourists from Ottawa, bought a lot of products and brought them back, and then people back in Ottawa really responded to it.”
If you’re curious about how they build custom designs into such small candies, it’s best to go in and watch the process for yourself — as we discovered, it’s something that’s a lot easier to show than tell. “You have to think multilaterally,” says Amy. “We melt the sugar at a high temperature […] and as it cools, it starts to become solid, so we work on a hot table while moulding it and building the design. It’s a huge cylinder at first, and then [May and Lin] hand pull and shape it before cutting it into little candies.”
“People often ask how we draw the candy design, but it’s actually not drawing,” explains May. “We build it [into layers within the cylinder] and then we roll it.”
Not only is all of their candy handmade, but it’s also made with local products from local providers. The only ingredients they use are sugar, water, glucose, food colouring, flavouring oils, citric acid, and—most importantly—lots of love. “The best thing about our candy is that we can control the sweetness and the sourness,” May says proudly. “It’s not too sweet because we make it ourselves — it’s not like candies from depanneurs.” Amy nods, adding that “with today’s technology, everything is industrialized, machine-made.”
CandyLabs offers a refreshing alternative to these impersonal factory sweets, which May feels is what makes them so great for gifting. “They’re suitable for everyone,” she points out, “boys, girls, parents, kids. Everybody likes candy, especially something really unique and tasty.”
Lin chimes in: “We also want to change the way people think about candy. it’s not acceptable to give regular candy as a gift —if you go to any store and fill up a bag, you can’t just tie that up and give it to a friend and say ‘hey, happy birthday.’ It doesn’t seem like a very beautiful or elegant gift, but we turn candies into edible arts, so it’s not just for eating!”
From May and Lin’s infectiously positive attitudes, to the delicious sweets, to the shop’s strictly upbeat pop playlist, it’s hard to imagine leaving CandyLabs without a smile on your face. Perhaps even sweeter than the store itself is the love with which it was built; newly engaged, May and Lin are not only building a company, but a future together. “It’s our first adventure together, and we’d like to do this forever —it’s unique,” says Lin. “We really want to expand this to other major cities in Canada, not just in Montreal.”
“Have a sweet day!” they yell in unison as we exit the sweet shop.
All images by Charlotte Guirestante Ghomeshi.