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Licorice International Licorice heaven in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Story by Lisa Waterman Gray
Photos by Kathy Plunkett Photography
Who would have guessed that a Lincoln, Nebraska company offers the nation’s largest selection of black licorice? Danish Trollendrop, Kerr’s Licorice Toffee from Canada, and bite-sized Italian Rombetti by Amarelli are only a sampling of the enormous inventory available through Licorice International. The company that began in New York City has long been a Lincoln staple.
When Larry Ring sold his candy and nut storefront on the upper East Side of Manhattan, he began selling licorice through the mail to meet the demands of the multicultural customers clamoring for licorice from across the globe. He learned who made each of their favorite varieties—sometimes calling embassies to find out who made a particular type of licorice and how he could order it—and developed a Licorice International catalog. His mail order business offered dozens of licorice varieties from nine countries.
In Lincoln, Anna Erlandson gifted Ring’s treats to her sons each Father’s Day, and they became hooked. After Anna entered a nursing home and her annual purchases stopped, her son Doug Erlandson found an old order among her papers. Rather than simply order the tasty treats, Doug and his wife Elizabeth acquired the company with Ardith and John Stuertze. Licorice International’s new headquarters opened in Lincoln in February 2002. The beloved Historic Haymarket District landmark eventually sold upwards of 150 licorices from more than a dozen countries.
In June 2019 longtime employee Erin Burianek purchased Licorice International from its Lincoln founders. She’d started working for the company in 2004 at its original College View neighborhood location. While there, she earned a business degree and started a small gelato company that’s run for nine years. But she purchased Licorice International, she says, “because I love the people I work with and can’t imagine my life without seeing them every day.”
As 2020 began, Erin moved the existing storefront to a much smaller space in the historic Haymarket urban neighborhood. The new space incorporates a commercial kitchen where she and her staff can make their own candies and gelato. Erin also opened a second location in the College View neighborhood, directly across from Licorice International’s first local location. Although she appreciates the large number of tourists who visit the Haymarket neighborhood, Erin opened the College View storefront to appeal to locals.
Candies inside both shops are organized by country, in alphabetical order. Although Licorice International specializes in black licorice, you’ll find other unique candies and chocolates from 15 different countries, too. While shopping, you can circle the globe, and sample any varieties you choose, from among some of the world’s finest sweets. Chocolate-covered licorice from Lakrids by Bulow is a seductive blend of sweet licorice with milk chocolate and licorice powder. Several Kosher options are even available, including Australia-based Darrell Lea that offers milk or dark chocolate black licorice ‘bullets.’ Dog-lovers appreciate adorable Scottie-shaped candies made with red or black licorice, from California-based Gimbal’s. Italian Morette all’arancia has a bumpy, berry-like surface and flavoring from sweet oranges. Love gumdrops? Crows makes some that are licorice flavored. Gluten-free licorice? Check. Sugar-free options? Check. There’s even licorice lip balm for true fanatics.
Vintage candy and gum brands are on hand, from Black Jack Chewing Gum and Coal Candy, to Good and Plenty. Other customer favorites include Black Tire Tracks licorice and Black Licorice Caramels. Licorice Bridge Mix from Jelly Belly is full of nonpareils, pastels, dots, and jellybeans with licorice centers. “My rule is for every three new black licorices we add, we can add one non-black licorice,” Erin says. “Part of me wants to change the company name to ‘Black Market Licorice,’ because good, strong, black licorice is hard to find.”
Online sales are thriving, too. In fact, Licorice International’s retail versus online sales are roughly equivalent. The company even sweetens the deal for mail order customers who purchase at least $100 of product, with shipping costs of only $5 in the continental U.S. A surprising number of customers take advantage of this offer: During a recent week, the company shipped four orders totaling over $100 and one customer placed a $430 order.
Wondering how you can gift your favorite licorice fan with a continuous supply of premium licorice? A Licorice of the Month Club annual membership allows friends or family members to enjoy a new licorice variety pack each month, culled from a long list of customer favorites. A six-month Sampler Club membership is available, too.
While in Lincoln, foodies who appreciate top quality meats should also check out Leon’s Gourmet Grocer, operating since 1933; Shuster’s Meats, specializing in ethnic sausages and cured meats for more than 50 years; or Surf & Turf Nebraska, offering gourmet meats and seafood, flown in daily, since 2003. With dozens of olive oil and balsamic vinegar varieties, Oliverde operates inside Surf & Turf Nebraska, too. Sweets lovers appreciate scratch-made glazed and Peanut Butter Frosted Donuts—to name just a few—at 60-year-old Randy’s Donut Shop; plus sweet and savory offerings, at Misky Bakery, a women-owned Latino bakery that opened in 2017.
Previously a restaurant cook and a professional baker, as well as a catering and a cooking school assistant, Lisa Waterman Gray has written food-focused stories for dozens of publications for local, national, and international audiences. Based on the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, she loves getting a ‘taste’ of every destination and telling the stories behind those flavors. Learn more at www.lisawatermangray.com.