by Joe Saunders
Karen Walton didn't start off wanting to conquer the candy business. Since she moved from her parents' Minneapolis home in 1986, Ms. Walton has worked as a nurse, a car mechanic, a baseball umpire, an opera singer, a shoe cobbler, a bounty hunter, an advice columnist, a Madonna impersonator and a tattoo artist, amongst other professions. But now, at age 43, she's the owner and “chief candy cooker” of Sweet Teeth, an artisanal candy store in Brooklyn, New York that the popular girl website Jezebel4Kids recently called “the hippest, tastiest dessert destination in the city.” Now, every morning, throngs of parents and other adults line up outside Sweet Teeth's 53rd Street storefront to try Ms. Walton's latest sugary concoction.
“Candy was just something I sort stumbled into,” Ms. Walton says as she sits in the breakfast nook of her Park Slope apartment. “I always used to make homemade candy for myself [because I don’t have children]. I never thought about selling it. Then one day, the actor Charlie Hunnam — whom I was dating at the time — suggested I start selling it. And I decided I'd give it a shot.”
Seemingly inspired by the “cronut” — which is a combination donut and croissant — Ms. Walton decided to make her reputation on cooking up “mash-ups” of famous store-bought candies. Shortly after opening her store, she debuted the “Twinx.” A combination of a Twix candy bar and a Twinkie, the Twinx had the soft, cakey outside of a Twinkie wrapped around the chocolate, caramel and candy biscuit of a Twix. It was an instant sensation with New Yorkers and soon crowds were lining up for a taste of all the sweet, sweet Twinx. After two whirlwind weeks, a Twinx industry started to spring up, with knockoff Twinx bars being sold in second-tier candy shops around the city, while “legitimate” Twinx bars were being resold for hundreds of dollars on Craigslist.
In an episode of his popular MTV reality show, Spinning The Mix, DJ Dado (who, despite being presumed dead, still executive produces the third season) had his DJ apprentices compete to see who could get from Dado's Upper East Side loft to Sweet Teeth and back with a Twinx the fastest. At the end of the episode, the apprentices composed a dance mix to celebrate the sweet flavors. The improvised dance mix bolted to the top of the iTunes charts 24 hours later. DJ Dado’s record label, Never Truly Gone Records, donated all of the proceeds to tsunami relief.
With the success of the Twinx, Ms. Walton — who once worked for $7 an hour as a giraffe washer at the Charlotte Zoo — was thrust to the forefront of the New York culinary scene. She followed it up with a series of other mash-up candies. There was the Jizzlers (a combination of Juicy Fruit and Twizzlers), Terds (taffy and Nerds candies), Cunts (cinnamon flavored Runts), Big League Mounds (Big League Chewing Gum and Mounds), Sperms (spearmint Gummy Worms), the Jolly Rocks Off (Jolly Ranchers, Pop Rocks, and the bug spray Off), and the infamous Milky Asses (Milky Way candy bars with molasses). Sweet Teeth's customer base ate the whole thing up… literally.
However, this overnight success was followed by an under-morning of litigation when, in June of this year, the Mars Corporation, which owns the Twix brand, and Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm that controls the Twinkie brand, filed a lawsuit against Ms. Walton. The suit accused Sweet Teeth of copyright infringement and Ms. Walton was forced to settle out of court. While she was allowed to continue selling the Twinx candies, she was forced to change the name to the unwieldy “Karen Walton's Cake Caramel Candy Sticks.” Meanwhile, Mars and Apollo Global are expected to announce that they will be manufacturing and nationally distributing their own Twinx-style candy snacks. Very soon, this once hip, Brooklyn-based sweet treat will be available in every gas station and vending machine from Orlando to Omaha, the top two cities for candy consumption in America.
And if that was not enough, Ms. Walton and Sweet Teeth have come under fire from numerous civil rights organizations for the name “Twinx,” which has been found to be incredibly offensive by virtually everyone.
But if these hurdles are troubling Ms. Walton, she isn't showing it. “Look, I don't get stressed about this stuff,” she says. “If this candy business doesn't work out, I'll just go back to repairing hats, or wrangling snake necklaces, or driving a school bus, or being a tax attorney, or whatever else I did before. I enjoy life like I enjoy candy — never settling down.” ♦