How a snack shop is betting on St. John's sweet tooth for its downtown venture

·3 min read
Conor McCann/CBC
Conor McCann/CBC

From a distance, the shelves at 174 Water St., lined with rows of brightly coloured packaging, look similar to any other boutique candy store.

Look a little closer, however, and the subtle differences become clear.

Prawn-flavoured chips, Japanese iterations of familiar snack-brand logos, unfamiliar flavour combinations and perhaps a cherished childhood treat long since forgotten about: these are the specialties of UnderGround Snax.

With humble beginnings in Nova Scotia, the company recently moved into a Water Street storefront.

Despite a growing number of shuttered business lining the downtown strip — not to mention the pressures of the ongoing pandemic — UnderGround Snax's first brick-and-mortar location in St. John's seems to be catching on with the city's sweet-toothed residents.

Founder Evan Humber was on his couch one night in 2019 when the idea of a boutique snack store first came to mind. He quickly set up a social media presence and began taking and placing orders.

"It literally just started with an idea," said Humber. "I was literally at home one night once I came up with the Instagram name, and I started posting some photos of the products that I'm getting in."

Conor McCann/CBC
Conor McCann/CBC

That night, says Humber, people began to engage right away, and soon he had an emerging business on his hands.

"I just placed a little order, and once it arrived, it sold [out] instantly," said Humber. "So I got more, and it kind of snowballed to what it is today."

Eventually, Humber decided that it was time to make the jump from a social-media based enterprise to UnderGround Snax's first physical location. With long-term dreams for broad expansion, Humber says that there was something both obvious and alluring about launching in Canada's most easterly city.

Onward to St. John's

Vince Kennedy, from Newfoundland's west coast, was just the island connection that Humber needed to set up their new location, and took the lead on hiring and managing the new store.

"I'm kind of a garbage human, man, I like it all really," said Kennedy, trying to pick out a favourite snack from the shelves of the Water Street location.

WATCH | Take a look inside UnderGround Snax's new location in downtown St. John's:

Kennedy manages the St. John's storefront, which opened last year. Seeing the nostalgia of customers who stumble across a forgotten favourite treat, he said, is a definite perk of the job.

"It's cool to see everybody's nostalgia go off on a certain product that might not even mean anything to you," Kennedy said. "But, they might have been five years old and had this candy back home growing up, and like, geez— it's cool to see, man, it's pretty cool to see."

Conor McCann/CBC
Conor McCann/CBC

Kennedy said that despite everyone's different tastes for snack food, coming together over candy seems to be easy for peckish residents, and with a wide selection of treats there's bound to be something for everyone.

With no plans to slow down, and a second location on Quinpool Road in Halifax that opened late last year, the UnderGround Snax team say they'll continue to source an array of new and interesting products.

As for which snack is Kennedy's favourite, he said it's a chocolaty twist on an old classic.

"It's probably going to have to be the Reese's cupcakes, to be honest. They're like a crazy chocolate snack-cupcake," he said.

"Like, you used to get those Hostess cupcakes back in the day that were filled with icing; very similar, but they've got the peanut butter Reese's filling in there — they're pretty stupid."

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