Today, it is not uncommon to see automated soda machines that can produce over 100 different drinks. However, Austin is home to one of the few places that sticks to the old-fashioned way of soda making: Big Top Candy Shop.
Story by Andrea Ocanas
Photos by Jordan Steyer
Brandon Hodge opened Big Top Candy Shop, his second business on South Congress, in 2007. His first business, Monkey See Monkey Do, is a quirky gift shop inspired by his college job at the mall and eventually led to the creation of Big Top. “My first and only job in Austin was at a place called Lonestar Illusions,” Hodge says. “I started working at the magic counter there and rose through the ranks. I started improving things.”
The circus themes of his first college job inspired the idea of Monkey See Monkey do. When new real estate opened up on South Congress two years later, Hodge took his color scheme and opened one of the first big candy shops in Austin. “I thought about what would fill in a gap down here,” Hodge says. “I didn’t ever think to open a candy shop before, but I stepped back and said well we don’t have one. So that was it.”
Before opening Big Top, Hodge had collected plenty of circus and sideshow memorabilia to coincide with his color scheme: gold and burgundy. After including these things in his personal collection, Hodge was ready to get them out of his house and into his shop. “The shop gave me a venue to put all that stuff back on display,” Hodge says. “We’ve always had a very sideshow way of marketing. When we first opened we put all these sideshow banners outside to black to windows, and once a day we would peel up a corner so people could look in.”
After selling his realtors on the idea of a candy shop on South Congress, Hodge began to consider what to do to fill in the shop, which he says was about twice the size of most candy shops at the time. “The soda fountain came about because this is such a big space,” Hodge says. “Back then I could not have filled it all with candy, so we added the soda fountain to take up that space.”
While the huge soda fountain originally came into the store as a way to utilize the space, it is now arguably one of the most defining elements of Big Top. “The soda fountain has always been a very important component to Big Top,” Hodge says. “It’s sort of the jewel and the crown if you will. If we were just candy I would probably only have five or six employees, but to keep that soda fountain running I’ve had as many as 15 or 18 employees for the summer.”
The soda making process is very labor intensive, requiring an abundance of manual labor. To help decrease the amount of work put into making these drinks, Big Top offers over 150 bottled sodas for customers to choose from. However, for those craving that homemade soda experience, the flavor choices are just as extensive. “We’ve got about 50 different syrups,” Hodge says. “That’s billions of combinations of different flavors. We try not to do a combination of more than three flavors, but we can really do billions of combinations especially when you add in ice cream flavors, syrups, and toppings.”
The soda fountain is part of the Big Top Candy Shop experience that you cannot find at many other candy stores. Brandon Hodge is working to keep the soda fountain a working, fun element of his store and is excited for the things to come after their most recent remodel.