Minutiæ Kids9.13

The Coolest Candy in the World


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.” ♦