116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
John Grant grew up in Bayonne, N.J., as a self-proclaimed child of the sea, and always loved having Italian ice treats.
When he opened Chameleon Candy a few months ago, he was fulfilling a long-time dream of being his own boss in the restaurant industry and bringing a little of his youthful memories from the East Coast to Cedar Rapids.
Owner: John Grant
Address: 3232 Johnson Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 550-5128
Chameleon Candy’s signature offering is Little Jimmy’s Italian Ice, a water-based, fat-free, dairy-free frozen treat that often is compared to sherbet and comes in a variety of flavors. Grant is proud that Little Jimmy’s Italian ice does not contain high fructose corn syrup and is a blend created some 70 years ago.
“I have been eating this since I was a little guy,” he said, noting the flavors can be mixed together or stand alone.
“There are no tears here,” he said — you can sample flavors before deciding which treat to purchase.
The store, near the intersection of Johnson Avenue NW and Edgewood Road NW, features a drive-thru option, which Grant said has been crucial as he navigates the pandemic’s effect on the restaurant industry.
Grant came to Iowa for college, attending both Waldorf and Wartburg. He spent time working in the counseling field, but always dabbled in other work, including owning several old-fashioned candy machines that he operated around town.
“I grew up in the restaurant industry,” he said, recalling that he started work as a teen at an Italian restaurant and spent years working in catering. “I love serving people, and I’m a storyteller who also loves to talk with people so working in the restaurant industry has been a good fit.”
It’s not surprising that Grant first came up with the idea of owning his own Italian ice business on a scorching hot day in 2008 while working an outdoor job.
“I was so hot that I said, ‘I need an Italian ice.’ I forgot I was in Iowa and no one knew what it was,” he laughed. “Out east it is just as popular as ice cream.”
Then, of course, the flood of 2008 delayed Grant’s plans.
About five years ago, Grant purchased a van for his Italian ice operation and set up at events in and around Eastern Iowa for several years.
Then last summer he found his current location on the west side of Cedar Rapids and things began coming together. That is, until the derecho hit.
The building sustained some damage, further delaying opening, but Grant persisted, even featuring tables in the shop that are made from downed trees from the storm.
“I really feel like this is a great addition to the neighborhood. I’m so excited I found this place,” he said.
Grant operates the shop on his own but hopes to hire staff as business picks up. He plans to create some outdoor seating space in the coming weeks as well.
“This is prime time coming up and I’m excited,” he said.
Visitors to Chameleon’s Candy also can purchase D’s Bees honey, Jones Soda, and other various hand-crafted candies. Grant also hopes to bring back his signature candy apples this fall.
“I watch people’s eyes when they taste it,” he said. “You can tell how much they like it by the ways their eyes light up. I’ve watched as instantly grown adults turn into children right before my eyes.”
Chameleon Candy recently booked its first graduation party.
“I’ve done weddings, corporate events and even a funeral,” he said.
Asking Grant to pick a favorite flavor is tough and he said his answer might change depending on the day. “Growing up I loved lemon and blueberry,” he said. “But then years later I tried coconut and I thought, what was I doing with my childhood? It’s so good.”
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