Every kid’s dream: Candy, cones and sweet chaos

A.J. Camhi, of East Brunswick, has been an entrepreneur since childhood. His latest venture, Ricky’s Candy, Cones & Chaos, is a candy, ice cream and party emporium on Broad Street in Red Bank.  A.J. Camhi, of East Brunswick, has been an entrepreneur since childhood. His latest venture, Ricky’s Candy, Cones & Chaos, is a candy, ice cream and party emporium on Broad Street in Red Bank. When other kids were playing with GameBoys, A.J. Camhi was running his own small business empire.

“I started selling used golf balls when I was 8,” said Camhi, who went on to earn a business degree. “My dad was a big golfer, and since I was too young to play, I used to hunt around and clean up golf balls and sell them for 50 cents a ball. I did that in the summer, and in the winter I would shovel snow. I owned businesses and sold them. I always liked having my own business; I never liked answering to anybody.”

PHOTOS BY SCOTT PILLING staff PHOTOS BY SCOTT PILLING staff At 24, Camhi, of East Brunswick, presides over every kid’s dream: a candy, ice cream and party emporium called Ricky’s Candy, Cones & Chaos at 86 Broad St. in Red Bank.

With its brightly colored interior, wall of candy bins, ice cream and topping center and party room, Ricky’s is an over-the-top, Willie Wonka-like experience.

“I have a little Disneyland in Red Bank; that’s the feeling,” said Camhi. “Free toppings and homemade ice cream are our claim to fame.”

Camhi is the chain’s first franchisee. The 3,600-square-foot Red Bank store joins other, corporate-owned locations in Princeton, where the chain is headquartered, Somerset, and West Chester, Pa.

Entry into Ricky’s is through a virtual candy land of 500 different varieties of sweet treats presided over by store mascot Ricky the Dragon, a 4-foot-tall, green, spotted benign creature Camhi describes as “very adorable.”

“Candy is what we mostly sell,” he said recently, standing in front of an entire wall of bulk candy that is sold by weight at $1.99 per quarter-pound. Customers can fill a plastic bag with favorite candies ranging from hard candy, gummy candy, sour candy, wrapped candy, chocolates, novelties like jawbreakers, perennial favorites like Tootsie Rolls, and an entire section featuring 40 different flavors of jelly beans.

In addition, there’s a wide selection of novelty candies that attempts to cater to all ages by including candies popular when baby boomers were young, like Black Jack chewing gum and chewable wax lips.

“We try to have something for everybody,” Camhi said, adding that the biggest seller is gummy fish.

An offshoot is custom candy gift baskets. “They’re huge this summer,” Camhi offered.

“People walk around and fill a basket with candy selections, and we make it up into a gift basket and take care of shipping.”

According to Camhi, the success of the gift baskets was a surprise, and the store did a brisk summer business in baskets sent to campers.

Once past the candy section, customers are at ice cream central. Ricky’s always offers 18 flavors out of a 40-flavor rotation. Sure, there are the basics like vanilla and chocolate, but there are also flavors like Smurf, Yum Yum Bubblegum and Snickers.

Above the ice cream section, a plasma TV screen shows vintage flicks and TV shows like the candy factory episode of “I Love Lucy.”

Camhi said prices are competitive at $3.49 for a small cone or cup, and Ricky’s packs ice cream to go: pints are $4.95 and custom ice cream cakes are $25.

The “chaos” in the store’s title refers to the topping center where patrons can build their own ice cream concoctions.

“This is where the chaos comes in,” Camhi said. “We think it’s so much more fun if you get to decide.”

Toppings — 30 of them — are unlimited, and there’s no extra charge.

“The price of our ice cream is the same as others in town, but toppings are free. It equates to a $3 value,” he said. “And, you can keep adding — walnuts, sprinkles, fruit, whipped cream, cherries, caramel and more. How many toppings can you put on? Too many to count.”

According to Camhi, freshly made ice cream is what sets Ricky’s apart from the other ice cream stores in town.

“What’s really great about the store is our ice cream is made on premises. That’s why it’s so fresh,” he said. “We try to make ice cream when it’s busy because kids and parents like to look in.

“Some of the ice cream was made this morning. I don’t know too many places that could say that.”

Just past the candy and ice cream sections is a seating area with stools designed to look like waffle cones. On the wall, a timeline gives the history of candy, beginning in 1828 with a Dutch chocolate maker. Sweets highlights include 1920, when Baby Ruth candy bars were introduced (candy trivia: the popular sweet was named not for the famous baseball player, but for the daughter of President Grover Cleveland), and the 1940s, when M&Ms were introduced.

Then it’s on to the party room, which can be reserved for occasions ranging from birthday parties to business meetings. An all-inclusive party package includes parking spots, invitations, paper supplies, soda or juice, T-shirt for the birthday child, three activities, candy bags and an ice cream cake, for $299 for 10 kids.

Camhi continued his entrepreneurial streak throughout high school and college, when he founded a magazine and sold advertising space all along the East Coast. The enterprise was profitable enough to pay his college bills, he said. Post college, he joined the corporate world and ran a marketing company but continued to pursue his own business.

“I was always searching for an up-and-coming business. When I saw Ricky’s in Princeton last December, I walked in and knew exactly that this would be the store I would open. I loved the idea, the colors, ambiance of the store. Everybody loves candy, everybody loves ice cream and to party. It’s a good concept. I called that day and signed a franchise agreement two weeks later.”

After plunking down the $30,000 franchise fee, Camhi looked around for a location and decided on Red Bank.

“It’s a no-brainer; the town is a walking town,” he explained. “You need something to walk to at night, something open past 5 p.m. and open on the weekends.

He disputes conventional wisdom that says ice cream is a seasonal business, noting that the candy and party sections of Ricky’s give the business 12-month staying power.

Ricky’s is open every day. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The store can be accessed from the Gold Street municipal lot.

Camhi’s outlook for the future was sealed by a story recounted to him by a local barber who told him: “You’re the new punishment in town. I always hear parents telling their kids, ‘If you don’t behave, you’re not going to Ricky’s.’

“At that point,” said Camhi, who plans a second location in Ridgewood, “I knew I would be successful.”