5 Star Story: Wayne’s Candy Company

Published: Apr. 4, 2023 at 11:04 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Ancient Egyptians are credited with the invention of candy. Sometimes called sweets, lollies or sweetmeats, they can bring out happiness, relaxation or even motivation.

In our continuing effort to highlight the people, places and things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home, we’re going to a Memphis candy mecca. Here’s why walking into Wayne’s Candy Company makes so many feel like, well, a kid in a candy store!

Wayne’s Candy Company is located just off South Main, on the corner of East Carolina Avenue and 2nd Street, and has been part of the Memphis landscape for 76 years; walk inside and prepare to be amazed!

“We see this a lot; people walk into the door, especially with our novelty shelf, all the colors. The kids especially walk in, they’ll stop and freeze. They’ll kind of do like this,” Kelly Hardcastle, Treasurer and manager of the warehouse said as he widened his eyes in mock surprise.“I’ve seen it a thousand times, ‘Wow!’’

That’s because the showroom shelves are filled with more than 2000 types of candy and novelties, and not just your average everyday stuff, either.

“Well, you know, we have a lot of old school stuff, nostalgia stuff like the candy cigarettes, and gotta call them candy sticks now, " company president Gary Wilkes explained while shaking his head. “We have Chick-O Sticks and a lot of old school stuff, snowball juice, and we have all kinds of novelties, gators and monkeys and little basketball goals and stuff like that,” he continued.

Wilkes is also the son of the man who started it all, Wayne Wilkes. He shared the story about his dad starting out:

“Dad hitch-hiked from Arkansas back in the 1930s; he had a dime. And so he stopped at a restaurant and he bought the truck driver a cup of coffee for a nickel and he got one for a nickel so he was broke. So he walked over to my uncle’s house and lived with them. And he borrowed $60 and he put $40 on a real crummy truck, and then he bought $20 worth of cookies. And he sold those and then bought $22 worth of cookies. That’s how he started.”

Eventually, Gary’s dad was able to buy $3,000 worth of World War II cans filled with hard candies that cost 50 cents a can. He then used the profits to buy his first building.

Wayne's Candy Company
Wayne's Candy Company(Action News 5)

By 1946, Wayne’s Candy Company was officially in business, and soon after moved to its current location.

“As far as wholesale candy companies with cash and carry I would venture to say, we’ve probably been here the longest,” Kelly Hardcastle, Gary’s nephew and Wayne’s grandson, said.

There’s also more than sweet treats inside the candy wholesaler’s building. During a tour of the warehouse behind the showroom, Hardcastle pointed out:

“We’ve got four different pickle company’s pickles, and all the pigs’ feet, pickled eggs, hot sausage. We sell a lot of that. Nacho sliced peppers, whole jalapeno peppers, we even have okra in the half gallon.”

You might even find an item or two that was too good of a deal for Wilkes to pass up, like some white University of Memphis shirts with a tiger on one side, on sale for $12.95.

“That was just, kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing that we got a hold of,” Wilkes explained.

Wayne’s Candy is truly a family business. “My wife worked down here and my daughter and brother and sister. And my nephew’s my boss now,” Wilkes chuckled. And, according to Hardcastle, “We have great employees. We have a long-term relationship with many of our employees. We have (some) here in the excess of 30 years. And so, we look at it as family more than just a boss and an employee. We all pitch in and do whatever it takes.”

And it takes a lot because there’s plenty of work to be done since the candy warehouse not only welcomes people into the store, but also ships goods to businesses throughout Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas.

“And then we’ll have large wholesalers come in and buy stuff for their business and they might buy 2 or 3,000 pounds,” Wilkes described.

The hours can be long, not to mention the amount of walking involved in the massive warehouse.

“Early hours--get up early, get down here early-- it’s tough work. We got a 30,000-square-foot warehouse,” Hardcastle said.

Wayne's Candy Company
Wayne's Candy Company(Action News 5)

Even still, both Wilkes and Hardcastle agree...

“It’s just been a great blessing from God. It just really has, my grandad saw a future in doing this and started a long time ago .and it’s been so great for our family and for so many others,” said Hardcastle. “It’s a neat thing to come to work. And you know, you’re selling candy,” joked Wilkes.

Wayne’s Candy Company has been bringing sweet delight to thousands throughout the decades and makes us proud to call this place home.

So, what’s in store for the future of Wayne’s Candy? There’s at least one grandson working with the business right now, so perhaps there will be another few decades to come. In the meantime, Wilkes and Hardcastle said they’ll continue buying and selling as much as possible.

For more information about Wayne’s Candy Company, click here.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.