Ray Alvarez, East Village icon and the owner of Ray’s Candy Store, is the focus of an upcoming documentary about his long-standing snack shop and the neighborhood that continues to change dramatically around it.
Alvarez, who opened his shop on Avenue A across from Tompkins Square Park in 1974, remains a staple in the area despite the neighborhood's rapid redevelopment. (Ray's Candy Store was nearly evicted in 2010 after Alvarez fell behind on the rent.) You may know him as the friendly 85-year-old who makes killer fried Oreos, but even those who frequent his shop may not know his full story —after all, his real name isn’t even Ray.
In the upcoming documentary, The Candy Store, Iranian filmmaker Arya Ghavamian highlights his serendipitous friendship with Ray, the shopkeeper who adopted a Puerto Rican identity for decades but is actually an Iranian immigrant himself, named Asghar Ghahraman. In 2011, at his naturalization ceremony, Ray told the Villager, "They can call me anything they want—I am American now. I’m American. No more Turkish. No more Puerto Rican—I was Puerto Rican for 50 years, I had to learn Spanish."
The documentary reveals that Ray came to the USA as an officer in the Royal Iranian Navy in the 1950s and jumped ship to chase the American dream.
“When they were leaving Asghar jumped ship, swam to back to shore, threw away all his documents and for more than three decades he pretended to be Ramon Alvarez, a Puerto Rican man running Ray’s Candy Store,” says Ghavamian in the trailer for the upcoming film.
Ghavamian spent four years filming Ray, sometimes helping out behind the counter so the 85-year-old shopkeeper could catch a break from his 16-hour shift and sleep in his apartment upstairs.
“With a travel ban in effect, and rising tensions between Iran and the West, I feel it’s imperative to show the potential of Iranian (and other) immigrants as resilient purveyors of beauty, poetry, and the American Dream,” says Ghavamian in his Kickstarter campaign for the film.
The director is hoping to wrap up the film by crowdfunding the post-production costs. Ghavamian also pledges to buy Ray a much-needed ice cream machine with the money, as well.
The campaign ends July 9th, and has a $50,000 goal. [h/t Bowery Boogie]