It is operated by Ray Alvarez and serves an eclectic mix of foods, including egg creams, soft serve ice cream, frozen yogurt, New Orleans style beignets, Belgian fries, and coffee.
Alvarez was born on January 1, 1933 in Iran and moved to New York in 1964, where he worked for another decade as a dishwasher in New York until he paid $30,000 for the candy store in 1974.
On the notorious night of August 6, 1988, while the police battled protesters in what came to be known as the Tompkins Square Park Riot, Ray's Candy Store remained open, per Ray, "because all the combatants were his customers."
On the morning of June 19, 1992, anti-crime activist, founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels, and radio talk show host and media personality, Curtis Sliwa, was kidnapped and shot by two gunmen after entering a stolen taxi outside Ray's Candy Store.
In early 2010, Ray's Candy Store fell behind on its rent and faced eviction by its landlord. The business was the subject of much press as a result. In a broad show of support, friends, neighbors, customers, and other community members quickly rushed to Ray's aid, hosting various fundraisers and starting a social media campaign meant to boost the beloved business's profile.
In July 2010, Ray was featured in a Fox News special hosted by John Stossel called "What’s Great about America."
In July 2011, after a decades-long process, proprietor Ray, who's real name is Asghar Ghahraman, became a naturalized U.S. citizen at a ceremony held at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. Years earlier, he had jumped ship from the Iranian Navy, but anxiety about his status as an illegal immigrant led him to adopt a new identity in his new home — as a Puerto Rican named Ray Alvarez. Asghar-turned-Ray eventually received amnesty under President Reagan — but, in a twist of fate, his green card was mailed to the wrong address, and he remained stuck in legal limbo. Without proper documentation, the longtime East Village egg-cream slinger faced an uphill road to naturalization. But finally, with the help of friends, who assisted him with paperwork, Ray, 78 at the time, was finally able to qualify to become an American.
In November 2011, both an interior and exterior shot of Ray's Candy Store was featured in an episode of the HBO comedy-drama series How to Make It in America. The episode, titled "The Friction," was the seventh episode of the second season, and fifteenth overall in the series. In an interview, principal actor, Bryan Greenberg, who attended NYU as a student, made particular reference to the scene shot at Ray's Candy Store as a "full circle moment for me." In the scene, actors Greenberg and Victor Rasuk meet up for some frites to discuss brand business, while at their backs a “Save Ray’s Candy Store” poster is in clear sight. They eventually walk outside onto Avenue A where the exterior hodgepodge of store signage receives its own cameo.
In 2015, Ray's Candy Store was featured in James and Karla Murray's book "STORE FRONT II: A HISTORY PRESERVED," a photographic chronicle of historical and storied businesses in New York City.
In August 2015, Ray's Candy Store was selected as the Greenwich Village Society for Preservation's "Business of the Month," and was also a finalist for a 2016 GVSHP Village Award, given in recognition of those people, places, and organizations that make a significant contribution to the quality of life in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.
In November 2016, Ray's Candy Store won "Best Restaurant" in the East Village in the inaugural Time Out New York Love New York Awards.
On the evening of August 6, 1988, what became known as the Tompkins Square Park Riot broke out between police and a group of protestors rallying against a recently enacted curfew on the park. Groups of "drug pushers, homeless people and young people known as 'skinheads'" had largely taken over the park. The Alphabet City/East Village neighborhood, in which the park was located, was divided about what, if anything, should be done about it. The local governing body, Manhattan Community Board 3, recommended, and the New York City Parks Department adopted, a 1 a.m. curfew for the previously 24-hour park, in an attempt to bring it under control. Ray's Candy Store, located across from the entrance to the park, remained open during the riot that ensued. Ray said he stayed open "because all the combatants were his customers."
On the morning of June 19, 1992, anti-crime activist, founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels, and radio talk show host and media personality, Curtis Sliwa, was kidnapped and shot by two gunmen after entering a stolen taxi outside Ray's Candy Store. The taxi picked up Sliwa near his home in the East Village and a gunman hiding in the front passenger seat jumped up and fired several shots, hitting him in the groin and legs. The kidnapping was apparently foiled when Sliwa leapt from the front window of the moving cab and escaped. Sliwa underwent surgery for internal injuries and leg wounds.
Federal prosecutors eventually charged John A. Gotti, the son of Gambino crime family leader John Gotti, with the attempted murder, among a raft of other charges. Prosecutors claimed that Gotti was angered by remarks Sliwa had made about his father on his radio program. However, after three attempts to try him, the last on September 20, 2005, three separate juries were unable to agree to convict Gotti on all of the charges brought against him and the charges were dropped. Jurors later told reporters they did believe he had a role in Sliwa's shooting. Prosecutors declined to re-try Gotti and dismissed the charges against him. Sliwa has said he would seek damages in civil court. Michael Yannotti, a Gotti associate, was also charged with shooting Sliwa in the incident but was acquitted. Yannotti, however, was sentenced to 20 years on an unrelated racketeering charge. Still, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin said evidence suggested Yannotti was the shooter.