Long before $6 Lindt Truffle Bars showed up in multiplex snack counters, movie theater candy was universally low-grade, the cheap snacks people munched while peeping Casablanca or Cleopatra Jones. On the West Coast, some of that candy was Flicks, which Ghirardelli launched by that name in 1904. Flicks were like squashed Hershey’s Kisses, chocolate discs packed in cardboard tubes an inch longer than toilet paper rolls—tubes you could peel open discreetly, without the rustle of cellophane.
I have a hunch Flicks sales started to decline sometime in the 1970s, about the time downtown theaters, grown seedy from neglect, were converting to pornos. In 1989, Ghirardelli abandoned Flicks altogether—the ancient machine that made them sustained damage when the company moved its operations east across San Francisco Bay.
But in 2004, a mechanical engineer named James Tjerrild bought the broke-down machine along with the Flicks trademark. Tjerrild had to pretty much rebuild the thing—only the drying tunnel and the salter, the thing that shakes sugar pellets onto nonpareils, were left of the original, says Sherri Hyder, national sales manager for Flicks. Tjerrild’s Flicks Candy Co. is in Fresno, in California’s Central Valley (Tjerrild still does his mechanical engineering, building roasters for almond and pistachio growers).
Tjerrild made small changes to Flicks. The chocolate discs are now sealed into Mylar bags before being stuffed into the cardboard tubes. And about a year and a half ago, a dark chocolate version—Flicks Cacao—appeared, next to the original milk chocolate discs (the latter contain so little cacao they’re called “chocolate-flavored”). Customers have changed, too. Only a few movie theaters carry Flicks anymore (they wanted monster pack sizes at a lower cost, Hyder says). Nowadays it’s mostly retail chains.
At a New Year’s matinee of Argo at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley, California, I bought a $2.50 tube of dark-chocolate Flicks, a candy I probably hadn’t nibbled since watching Star Wars in first run. Disappointing at first: The discs were rigid as cold wax, covered by an eczema bloom, and with a taste that seemed more roasted chicory than Theobroma cacao. But after an hour’s grip in my hot hand, the tube gave up chocolates just warm enough to register as creamy. I thought, Flicks are awesome. And the fact that bittersweet maven Alice Medrich happened to be sitting one row up? Didn’t even faze me.
Photo by John Birdsall