LINCOLN SQUARE — If you want to fill your Easter baskets with more than just Peeps and jellybeans, head to Amy's Candy Bar.
This holiday season, owner Amy Hansen — whose store at 4704 N. Damen Ave. was named one of the country's five best new candy shops by Food & Wine — has stocked a variety of specialty treats from all over the world.
There are Caffarel chocolates from Italy, including stracciatella eggs which have a creamy filling with chocolate cookie bits surrounded by a dark chocolate shell.
From Germany, she has an assortment of brightly painted real egg shells. Crack them open to reveal the chocolate and hazelnut truffle center.
Robin's eggs in the palest of blue and filled with caramel and pastel colored "bunny" corn (the spring version of candy corn) are also among the unique confections.
For Hansen, the daily arrival of shipments from far-flung locales is like getting "presents all year round," she said, as she recently broke open a box of Cadbury bunnies from England, fresh off the UPS truck.
And of course Hansen also showcases plenty of her own handmade caramels, nougat and turtles.
"I can't compete on price for Brach's jellybeans. I really try to stay away from product that you can find at big box stores — it's the only way I can differentiate," she said. "You have to find a unique product and give [customers] a reason to come here."
Hansen, a graduate of the French Pastry School, quickly earned a following among neighbors.
"There's certain people that come in every week and get the same thing," she said.
Having established a local fan base, she's now focused on launching an online store and building her reputation among corporate clients.
"I'm still working 80 hours a week," said Hansen, who has three part-time employees. "I'm here every day. I thought I would be able to take a day off by now. It's hard, as a business owner, to hand off."
When she's not waiting on customers or filling out paperwork — bookkeeping, taxes, payroll — Hansen can be found in the Candy Bar's cramped kitchen, mixing up small batches of her signature caramels or experimenting with new flavors.
Her dream is to someday concoct a literal Amy's candy bar.
"Trying to invent my own candy bar has always been in the back of my mind," Hansen said. "I'd start with some of the flavors I like. I would have it be out-of-this-world delicious."
Some of her customers think she's already achieved her goal with her homemade turtles, which Hansen shapes by hand.
"These are special. They bring sweet and salty together in perfection," said Susan Horowitz, an Andersonville resident who only recently discovered Amy's but has already made repeat visits.
She said of the shop, "It's small but it's jam packed with goodness."