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Spanish for 'Candy Land'

August 31, 2011
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When you walk into Dulce Landia, you can’t help but feel an intense urge to find a bat and swing it as hard you can - at the pinatas. Dulce Landia, which roughly translates to “candy land,” is a Chicago area-based chain of confectionery stores that specializes in products imported from Mexico and other South American countries.



By Crystal Lindell
Associate Editor

 
When you walk into Dulce Landia, you can’t help but feel an intense urge to find a bat and swing it as hard you can - at the pinatas.

Dulce Landia, which roughly translates to “candy land,” is a Chicago area-based chain of confectionery stores that specializes in products imported from Mexico and other South American countries.

The stores look like a rainbow just exploded - in a good way. There’s rows and rows of authentic pinatas hanging from the ceiling and flanking the walls, while carefully placed confections line the shelves to maximize all available space. All in all, there are 400 to 500 varieties of candies, pinatas and party favors, all imported from Mexico. No Chinese-made pinatas here, mind you.

Julio C. Rodriguez, who runs the business with his twin brother Eduardo, says it was their parents who first started the company. Eduardo Sr., and Evelia Rodriguez didn’t originally dive into retailing. Rather, the two grocers got their first taste of Mexican sweets through a distribution company, San Jose Imports Inc., which they opened once NAFTA was passed into law in 1991.
 
“My parents decided to go to Mexico and see what they could find, and see what they could bring in, and try to bring a piece of Mexico to Chicago, which was something that was sorely lacking here,” Julio says. “They started importing nostalgic products from their childhood. When they were in Mexico, obviously, they consumed sweets, and they wanted to bring that here to the residents of Chicago and the Mexicans of Chicago.”

After finding success with the import company, they decided to move forward. So, in 1995 the husband-and-wife team created the first Dulce Landia. The doors opened on a Monday in October, just days before Halloween.

“I remember seeing people with tears in their eyes,” Julio says. “They could not believe that they [could] have this candy here in Chicago. People get very nostalgic. Especially when you’ve been away from Mexico for so long. I mean, let’s say you come here in your teenage years, you don’t go back. So when you see a piece of your youth, a piece of your childhood, you’re just blown away by it.”

That’s not the end of this retail story, though.

Reaching out to first-generation immigrants with comforting sweets from home is equivalent to releasing a catchy single on the Top 40 charts. It’s hard, but it’s the second hit song that really counts. And, with imported candies, it’s the second-generation immigrants who can be the most rewarding to reach.

Julio understands this first hand.

“Even me, myself, who is born here, raised on Twix and Snickers and everything else, I had to get accustomed to all of our candy myself,” he explains. “Being of Mexican descent does not necessarily mean I have the Mexican recipes or the Mexican consumables in my mind. I don’t. I’m born American, I’m raised American.”

Now though, Pollo Asado Paletas (spicy lollipops shaped like roasted chickens) and Mazapan ( an almond and peanut treat) are on his favorites’ list.

He says his store is actually starting to see a wave of second-generation consumers come through the doors.

“We’ve gotten the younger generations, who are now grown up, who bring their kids to Dulce Landia,” he explains. “They were 10 years old when we started the business, now they’re 25, and they have their own kids, and they’re bringing their own kids. A generation of kids have grown up with us, and that’s awesome to see them coming back because of their kids and wanting the same things that they had when they were young.”

No translation needed for that successful formula.
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