Everyone loves eating candy. It’s like breathing air, drinking water or falling in love. The many tastes and textures of different candies can simultaneously evoke memories of childhood and also be sinful, soothing indulgences when adult life throws a curveball. From lollipops and licorice to jawbreakers and jellybeans, candy comes in all colors, shapes and sizes.
American actor and all-around heartthrob Ryan Gosling told Esquire magazine, “Sometimes I think that the one thing I love most about being an adult is the right to buy candy whenever and wherever I want.”
So embrace your maturity, and go buy some damn candy.
One man who’s not afraid to profess his undying love for candy is Peter Behringer, the owner of Sweet Pete’s, a full-service confectionery peddler that opened in 2010.
“It’s hard to say how much candy I eat each day,” Behringer admits. “I go days without eating any candy — only the things I have to taste. Other times, I am on an absolute binge.”
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Behringer and his family moved to Jacksonville in October 1982. Shortly thereafter — 1983 to be exact — his mother, Phyllis Geiger, started Peterbrooke Chocolatier, another household name in the local sweets racket with 15 area locations, named for Behringer and his sister, Brooke.
“I was a part of that company for over 20 years,” he explains. “Although I left Peterbrooke — pretty burned out — at the end of 2009, I still had a passion for chocolate and candy. I wanted to pursue my own vision and have the freedom to be creative. Allison [his wife] and I saw an opportunity for a fresh take on the classic candy store.”
Sweet Pete’s has quickly become the Northeast Florida headquarters for hip, happening and healthful (yes, good for you) candy. With a new, 22,000-square-foot location on North Hogan Street in downtown Jacksonville, the company says it’s “the sweetest destination on Earth!”
In realty, it’s attracted attention for its alternative confections in vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free and nut-free options. There’s also a new full-service restaurant, The Candy Apple Café & Cocktails, as well as specialty classes, onsite event hosting and community happenings.
“Adults who believe candy is just for kids should come to our candy store,” says the 42-year-old Behringer. “If that doesn’t work, I don’t know what to say. Some people like to take the joy and fun out of life.”
According to author Samira Kawash in her book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, candy, which accounts for only six percent of the added sugar in our diets, has gotten a bad rap.
Kawash told NPR, “I think if we look around the supermarket, we see all kinds of foods that are quite similar to candy, with very high sugar contents, with all kinds of artificial colorings and flavorings, encouraging us to associate eating purely with pleasure.”
The author went on to say, “To me, this is very much what candy is. But candy is the one that says, ‘Hey, this is a treat. This isn’t really food.’ Candy never says, ‘It’s fiber, it’s vitamins, it’s all-natural, it’s good for you!’ Candy is honest, and says, ‘This is a treat. Look at it as a treat. Enjoy it as a treat.'”
There are plenty of places around Northeast Florida to get a sugar rush. St. Augustine has two Kilwins Chocolates (there’s one at St. Johns Town Center, too), St. Augustine Candy & Nuts, The Black Parrot Candy Shoppe and Savannah Sweets — all on St. George Street — as well as Whetstone Chocolates, with shops on St. George and on King (which offers tours and tastings) streets and a third on Anastasia Boulevard. Claude’s Chocolate has two locations in Northeast Florida.
There’s also Fantastic Fudge on Amelia Island and Peterbrooke Chocolatier locations from Atlantic Beach and the Avenues to Anastasia Island and Avondale.
“Whenever I travel, I love to visit as many candy and chocolate stores as I can,” says Behringer. “I love turtles, caramels and cherry cordials. My least favorite candy is whatever kind I’ve eaten too much of. I don’t get tummy aches; however, I do experience severe sugar crashes.”