The holiday season isn’t complete without a few visions of sugarplums, right? It was drizzling on our last morning in Memphis during the recent Nutcracker trip, but we didn’t let that stop us from ducking into what’s become one of our favorite candy, nut and snack-attack spots! The Peanut Shoppe on Main Street — under the big “Peanuts” sign — has been around since 1949 when it was an official “Planters Peanuts” store. Mr. Peanut still graces the sidewalk sign out front and sits atop the 1929 antique peanut roaster, but the owner for nearly the last 25 years, we learned, has been Mr. Ridda and his wife. That’s his first name, and when he introduced himself, he explained it was pronounced, “Ree – DAH.” I was so thankful for the time Mr. Ridda gave us that morning and the wonderful Memphis experience he shared with us.
The shop is only the width of one long aisle next to a series of display cases filled with nuts and candies, and what seems like barely enough room for popcorn makers and the nut roaster. The walls are filled with old photos, posters from various Memphis events, “Go Tigers” memorabilia and tins. You would think that a tiny spot like this would be more conducive to a quick pop in and out, but it usually seems like folks want to linger. We did! I guess it’s the warm smell of roasting peanuts and buttered popcorn, or maybe the wonder of so many spice-sprinkled or chocolate swirled nuts and shiny, sugary candy varieties.
Mr. Ridda was engaged with another family when we came in, which gave us a little time to narrow down some of our candy favorites (ha! narrow down was a bit unrealistic). When they left, he turned his attention to us. He learned each of the children’s names and promised to get their help with some roasting before we left. Our first selections were buttered and cheddar popcorn, so he demonstrated how to work the popcorn maker and showed us how he dripped the butter in. While that finished up, he showed us the antique roaster.
Mr. Ridda brought out a tall narrow black metal bucket filled to the top with peanuts in their shells. He let each of the kids grab a handful and then opened the peanut hatch on the front of the roaster and poured the rest of the bucket in. When he closed the hatch again, he showed us a small circle opening where he let each of the kids drop their peanuts in one at a time. We left them to roast, and he told us we had helped him make the peanuts that another customer later that day would enjoy! Mr. Ridda’s reward for peanut roasting… suckers for each, of course! We went on to finish out our selections, and Mr. Ridda — who I think will now forever be known as the Peanut Man in our family — made us promise not to eat any of the treats until after breakfast.
We left The Peanut Shoppe with a near ridiculous variety of popcorn, nuts and candy, candy, candy. Our purchases? A bag of buttered popcorn, boxes of cheesy popcorn, ring pops, and carefully measured pouches of gummy bears, sugared fruit slices, jelly beans, yogurt covered pretzels, cinnamon pecans, sugared pecans, spicy pecans, and of course, peanuts! And, we left feeling that a unique part of historic downtown Memphis had become our very own! Sorry, Mr. Ridda… we didn’t keep our promise. We sampled some of these “sugarplums” right away!