PEZ Palace: Inside Silicon Valley’s quirkiest museum

In Burlingame, collector Gary Doss has compiled a sweet tribute to a candy classic

By Kasia Grobelny

From Daffy Duck to Darth Vader: Pez has reflected pop culture for more than 60 years. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Candy has a way of bringing out everyone’s inner kid, and Pez — the ubiquitous candy known as much for its dispenser as its taste — has remained perennially popular over the years. Dating back more than six decades, Pez has always been an offbeat candy and simultaneously a reflection of pop culture. So what is it about these tiny rectangles of sugar and their one-of-a-kind delivery system that has people hooked?

“There isn’t anything like Pez still,” says Gary Doss. “It’s a little toy that gives you candy; a happy, fun, silly, little product.”

Gary Doss, at his Pez Museum in Burlingame, pictured with the world’s largest Pez dispenser. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Doss didn’t set out to open a shrine dedicated to candy (it started off as a computer store). But the owner and curator of the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia notes that he is “happy to come to work every day,” surrounded by more than 1,000 Pez dispensers, classic toys and Legos.

“People that come into the museum are usually people that are just kind of interested in seeing something that is different and quirky and unique,” says Doss. Though the museum is not affiliated with the company that makes Pez, it does bill itself as the world’s only Pez museum. “Nobody else has one,” says Doss. (The Pez company does have a visitor center at its American HQ in Connecticut.)

The Pez Museum in Burlingame has every Pez dispenser ever sold. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Doss notes that an early web presence (he launched the museum’s website in 1995) has helped attract potential visitors hunting for a one-of-a-kind experience in the Bay Area. A prime location right by the airport doesn’t hurt either.

“During the summer, a lot of people have extra time to kill before their flight and they look up what to do locally and we pop up pretty easily,” Doss said.

Loud and shrapnel-y: one of the phased-out toys in Doss’s peripheral displays. (Photo by Charles Russo)

The other half of the museum is just as fun and boasts toys from the 1950s and 60s including a section on banned toys that have been pulled off store shelves. Currently on display: lawn darts, scented crayons (deemed good enough to eat by kids) and an atomic energy science kit that included radioactive material.

To keep his inventory up to date and appealing (he adds three new Pez collectibles every month), Doss scours eBay, garage sales and antique sales. He also attends one of the eight annual Pez conventions throughout the U.S. to hunt for vintage dispensers, memorabilia and more.

So what kind of person collects Pez? “Young, old, you name it, there’s Pez collectors of every background,” Doss said.

A rare set of Japanese mini Pez dispensers. (Photo by Charles Russo)
One the vintage Pez dispensers on display in Burlingame. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Originally from Austria, Pez is a shortened version of the German word for peppermint. Austrian candy executive Eduard Haas invented Pez candy in 1927 but the Pez that we know and love today didn’t come on the scene until 1950.

Maybe it’s the nostalgic feeling people get when they think of the fun dispensers or the favorite characters they love seeing in Pez dispenser form.

No one is quite sure what magic combination resulted in Pez being able to stand the test of time, says Doss. The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia plans on sticking around to proudly represent Pez for a long time to come. “There’s always something new to get,” Doss states. Can’t make it to the museum? Well not to worry, you can still get your Pez fix via the museum’s online store.

Like a kid in a candy store: Doss inside of his Burlingame museum. (Photo by Charles Russo)

The Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia

214 California Dr, Burlingame, CA 94010

(650) 347–2301

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Sometimes our work is a collaborative effort, hence the "staff" byline. The best of what to eat, see and do on the SF Peninsula.

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