When was the last time you thought about candy? Not last-minute grabbing Starbursts at the Target checkout thoughts—more like with a blind desire to possess an entire bag of hardened-saccharine confections that you will spend the rest of the day dissolving into nothing?
Perhaps not recently. But, now, if you want to do that, even as an adult in Brooklyn, you can, because Queens native Eugene J., a chemical engineer and noise musician, has opened his very own candy shop in Bushwick: Eugene J. Candy Co.
“Everyone makes immediate reference to Willy Wonka, or to the Candy Man,” Eugene tells me, talking on the phone (a landline!) from inside of his two-week-old storefront. “But I’ve been called “Candy Warhol,” and I kind of prefer that because it fits into the creativity of [candy making], and the art of it better.”
Let’s step back for a moment, though. Who hasn’t at one point in their life wanted to make candy? My one moment came courtesy of the The Little House Cookbook. I was eight; I wanted to make candy out of molasses, by pouring it on the snow and letting it freeze, just like Laura and her Papa. I never did, though. My candy dreams ended there.
Eugene, however, is not like me. For the last fifteen years, has obsessively experimented with creating innovative candy recipes of his own, with only his curiosity and his passion to create as his guide.
“I made every mistake in the book before I learned how to make candy,” Eugene. Excitement bubbles out of my cell phone’s earpiece as he talks, because he is, in fact, a kid in a candy store. “I’ve done 99 trials for one kind of gelatin gummy.”
Speaking of those gelatin gummies, maybe you didn’t know, they are a standard for innovation in the industry. Created by Hans Riegel of Bonn, Germany, HARIBO (made of the first two letters of Riegel’s first, last, and home-town names), was the first to use a secondary material from livestock to make something sweet for kids. “To take gelatin, which is a byproduct of the pork industry, and to put it into a candy, that is a kind of genius thing to do,” says Eugene, with admiration.
And that is precisely what he’s shooting for, too, he says—to make candy that innovates, right in his shop. But, a little time is needed before that happens. In store now, he has stocked around 120 candy products (ultimately, he aims for 1,000), and he orders them, for the most part, from domestic and local “craft candy” makers: The Salty Road, makers of saltwater taffy in Clinton Hill; QUIN, concocters of lollipops, caramels, and Dreams Come Chew fruit-chews, based out of Portland; and Wondermade, out of Orlando Florida, who, I have to say, are up to the good stuff: stout beer and bourbon marshmallows.
But that is by no means all; Eugene wants to tell me about more: Gummy Fried Eggs, Gummy Chicken Feet, and Gummy Vampire Teeth. “You can pretty much take anything and imagine it into candy,” he says—just a matter of fact.
Right now, every waking moment (and I do mean this, because his own apartment is in the rear of the store) is spent wearing “several mini hats” to keep the candy business afloat—attending to the space, maintaining and ordering new candy—but eventually he will hire a manager, and incorporate his own candy, and candy-making production, into the store.
One creation he’s really proud of: “I released this product called Freaks, which is kind of like Nerds, that are super-textured on the outside, because I put too much air on it,” Eugene marvels. “It’s edgier. I want the kids to dig it.”
Eugene is also keeping his prices low: he wants to provide a “Honeydukes” experience (in Harry Potter, Honeydukes is filled with “shelves upon shelves of the most succulent-looking sweets imaginable.”) at economy prices. “I’ve become the first real candy store experience for all the local kids over here—they’re all going crazy,” says Eugene. “That’s special.”
Eugene J. Candy Co., 16 Wilson Avenue, Bushwick