Louise Schönberg won’t let her three-year-old son eat candy—North American candy, that is. The Swedish mother grew up with a national tradition known as lördagsgodis, or Saturday sweets: a bike trip to the store for a bag of bulk candy. It is a weekly ritual honoured by adults and children alike, but upon moving to Vancouver 12 years ago to be with her now-husband, Schönberg found herself unable to enjoy the candy available in Canadian stores. “Every Christmas, Easter, birthday I always said to my family [back in Sweden], ‘Send candy!’ because there’s no good candy here,” she explains. “We got tired of doing that and then said, ‘Why don’t we just open a candy store?’ So we did.” The result is Karameller, which translates to English as “hard candy”, a small Yaletown shop offering only the best imports from Sweden.
Swedes take their sweets seriously, evidently; Schönberg says a recent statistic measures that the average citizen ingests 19 kilograms of candy per year. “The quality and taste is unbelievable,” says Schönberg’s husband, Luis Giraldo. Growing up in Colombia (where he played keyboards for Shakira) and then moving to Canada, Giraldo had never experienced Swedish candy until he met Schönberg and began sharing the five-kilogram care packages from her family. He jokes that he never in his “wildest dreams” imagined he would become such a candy connoisseur. And the sweets on offer at Karameller certainly are of a high calibre, with no trans fats, GMOs, or high-fructose corn syrup, and hardly any artificial colouring. The outcome? A more intense, fresh, and whole flavour.
Both Schönberg and Giraldo move along the wall of bulk bins with enthusiasm, pointing out favourite kinds and flavours. Each container lists that particular candy’s allergens, and tongs and scoops are washed between customers to ensure cleanliness. The narrow, crisp, bright space teems with people even on opening day: curious passersby, excited candy aficionados, young children, full-grown adults, all, naturally, with goofy smiles slapped to their faces. One small girl holds her bag of loot, showing it off to others as she walks proudly out the door; a blonde lady pops in and immediately thanks the couple, explaining that she, a fellow Swede, has been waiting for something like Karameller to open up in Vancouver for years; another woman, fancy dress swishing and high heels clicking, gleefully fills her sack of sweets and exclaims, “I’m like a kid in a candy store!”