The Legacy of the Candy Man

The Legacy of the Candy Man

This family-owned business has added to the sweetness of Savannah for the last 50 years

Words by Paige Townley

Savannah, Georgia, was probably known as “The Hostess City of the South” long before Stan Strickland opened his candy shop, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. But for anyone who has ever been to the long-standing River Street establishment, it would only make sense that he contributed to the moniker somehow. “He really took the idea of taking care of your customer to heart,” says Stan’s son, Rhett Strickland. “To my dad, it has never been about selling candy. He wanted people to be able to walk in the store, have a fresh sample of taffy and a good time, listen to music, and enjoy watching people make old-school candy.” 

Stan designed the shop so that customers walk right into the kitchen after stepping inside,  for two reasons: First, to give them the best possible view of the confectioner at work, and second, to get to know his customers. “Even on his days off, you’d usually find him in the shop talking to customers, asking if they were enjoying their stay in the city, recommending where to eat, and learning all about them,” Rhett adds. “He loved taking care of people.”

He also loved the city of Savannah. Though originally from Waycross, Georgia, a small town to the southwest, Stan visited Savannah on a field trip while in school and immediately knew he wanted to live there one day. After graduating from college and spending four years in the military, Stan moved to Savannah and never looked back. Originally, he tried to open a furniture store, and then a Christmas ornament shop. Then one day, he happened to make a batch of pralines—a recipe handed down from his mother, Emily, who used to work in a divinity plant. “Some older women stopped in and asked to buy them,” Rhett says. “My dad went to give some to them and they crumbled because they were stuck on the marble slab. One of the ladies said, ‘Sir, if you put some butter down first, those would come up without breaking.’ That one sentence changed his life and put our family in the candy business.”

Stan officially opened his candy shop in 1973, focusing first on pralines. He even modified a fudge pot to become a praline pot in order to cook pralines at a faster speed. “That’s now an industry standard,” Rhett adds.  

Ever the innovator, Stan soon expanded. He traveled to Tennessee to meet with other confectionaries to learn about saltwater taffy. He then started making candy and caramel apples and became the first to use green apples in addition to the then-standard red apple. “He also developed our apple caramel because he wanted the apples to have a reflection on it,” Rhett says. “That caramel shines like gold and tastes so good.”

Stan soon became known as Stan the Candy Man—“I hardly ever heard his name said without those three words behind it,” Rhett shares—and he continued to build upon the products that landed him the nickname. There came items such as turtle gophers, pecan caramel popcorn made with fresh Georgia pecans, peanut brittle, peanut butter cups, and all sorts of chocolates, from bark to truffles, most all of which are made right on site in the store. “We are now chocolatiers, and it really started with my dad,” Rhett says. “It has advanced a lot over the years, but it all started with my dad and mom, Tonya, having fun in the kitchen. In fact, my dad always called my mom ‘Tonya Jean the praline queen.’ He said that without her, he would be nothing.”

Many of these top-requested items got their start when Stan and Tonya lived above the River Street storefront when they started out. Each morning, they would get up and make candy while also running the candy shop. “They’d go to work all day, then go upstairs, have dinner, and answer the house phone to take orders for the next day. They were always working to further the success of the shop because, as my dad would always say, ‘The only thing that stays the same is change, so you have to be ready for it.’”

The hard work and dedication paid off. Today, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen boasts seven locations and a mail order empire that ships the shop’s sweet products to all 50 states. Sadly, the family now does it all without Stan. He passed away in May 2022. “His passing left a big hole in our heart,” Rhett shares. “But I feel like we can still hear him telling us what to do. He’s always in our thoughts, and we continue to run the shop his way.”

That includes continuing to innovate and add new products. Last year, the shop introduced soft serve ice cream, along with colorful waffle cones and a new chocolate called mini gophers. While popular, just like the rest of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen’s products, the top seller continues to be the pralines, which speaks to the lasting legacy of Stan the Candy Man. “Dad’s legacy is what has kept me going,” Rhett says. “He loved every second of taking care of people, and to him the job was never done. I think of him as a giant, and I don’t think anybody here feels any differently. We’ll continue to be dedicated to his mission, and nothing will ever change that.”