A Candy-Coated Birthday at MJ's Candy & Events in Dublin

On paper, it sounds like the recipe for the world's biggest sugar crash: Hold a birthday party for a 7-year-old girl and 10 other, equally high-energy kids in wait for it a candy store.

And not just any candy store. MJ's Candy & Events in Dublin, which also boasts an ice-cream bar and a soda fountain, along with a floor-to-ceiling assortment of wildly colored M&Ms, a spinning powdered-sugar dispensary, exotic chocolates from Mexico, and more Swedish fish than the North Sea could hold.

But MJ's owners, Jeff and Mary Shaffer, are parents themselves (of daughters, ages 12 and 8) and they know better. As become evident during Maci Picolo's hour-and-a-half-long party one bright winter's afternoon, the secret ingredient in this recipe was to hold off on the sugar consumption until the very end.

Until then, you just dazzle the kids with relay races, scavenger hunts, candy-themed games of Pictionary on a wall-sized blackboard, cupcake decorating and limbo.

"You really don't need to do anything more than just keep moving and having fun," explained Jeff, pointing out that crafts and drawing were also a big part of keeping the kids entertained.

"This is not his first time at the rodeo," marveled Maci's mother, Jennifer, as she and husband Dan watched Jeff calmly orchestrate the kids' activities.

Jennifer said she discovered MJ's on ColumbusParent.com while looking for birthday-party ideas. The shop, which opened in November 2007, has become an anchor in the Old Dublin Historic District, and its parties are a big part of MJ's success (and they're not limited to just birthday celebrations).

"It looked adorable and I showed her the options," Jennifer said of their decision-making process, "and this was the one she chose. She has a sweet tooth just like her mother."


FUN WITH CANDY
How many games can you play with candy but without actually eating any?

Relay race: Take quarter-size gumballs, place them in a bowl and, using plastic spoons, transport them one by one, to a bowl in another room.
Scavenger hunt: Jeff Shaffer uses pictures of different candies to prompt the kids to go find them in the store. The first team to get through all its pictures wins.
Limbo: You know those long shoelace strings of licorice? They're perfect for playing limbo with!

YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD FOR CANDY
The oldest birthday party kid has been an 18-year-old, said MJ's owner Jeff Shaffer, who wanted one last kid-style blowout before adulthood arrived.
"With the older children," added Mary Shaffer, "we will often do chocolate tastings." The shop carries exotic chocolates with ingredients like chili pepper, sea salt and Earl Grey tea in them.

COST-CONSCIOUS CANDY CONSUMPTION
MJ's birthday parties cost $18 per child with a six-guest minimum and a
20-guest maximum. The price includes set-up, clean-up and an adult party leader, games, cupcakes with candy to decorate, Hershey's ice cream,
drinks, invitations and favor bags filled with candy that the guests can go "shopping" for. That was Maci Picolo's favorite part, she said. Families are welcome to bring in pizza or other food.