Who: Jamie Curl
Where: Quin Candy, Portland Oregon
It’s impossible not to hear Bow Wow Wow’s hit “I Want Candy” when laying eyes on these Technicolored lollypops. Whether you prefer sweet or sour, hard or chewy…we all have a soft spot for sweets (especially this time of the year).
We took a moment to chat with Jami Curl, successful candy maker and owner of Portland based cool confectionary QUIN Candy, to discuss sugar coated inspiration, dreams of flavored milk and how Yo MTV Raps! plays part in her business plan.
Let’s just say our hands are going to be grabbing up her bags of unique gumdrops and Twizzlie Rolls well past Halloween.
How does one decide to make candy their life’s work? Do you have an experimental sweet tooth by nature or is it more about the delicate process?
I think my life’s work certainly centers around the creation of food – and yes, that food is usually the sweeter stuff – but what I truly love is sharing those creations with others. Every single thing I make or create – from a new caramel to French toast for my little boy’s breakfast – comes from a place of pure love. Think about it: when someone gives you something that they’ve made for you, at that exact moment don’t you feel like the only girl/boy/woman/man/person in the world who matters? That’s how I feel. And I love spreading that feeling as wide as possible, every day…and I usually do that by way of creating treats. (Excuse me for a minute while I pinch myself (yet again) that this is my job!)
That said, I do love the experimental side of candy creation. It is sugary and sweet, but it’s also straight-up science. Ratios have to be precise, careful steps have to be taken to coax sugar out of its crystallized state and then further steps have to be taken to keep sugar from re-crystallizing. Then add in other factors like rainy or humid days, ambient temperature and the temperature of ingredients – so many factors that can make or break a successful batch of candy!
Overall, I cannot imagine doing anything else. There are challenges, certainly (it is a business after all) but I can’t imagine being happier at work than I am right now. What is the meaning behind your company’s name QUIN? What was your initial branding process like when starting the creative vision for the company?
A quin is a type of sprinkle. It’s the flat, round pastel circle that kind of looks like a miniature Necco wafer. Prior to starting QUIN I had a bakery for nearly 9 years and we used TONS of quins on our cupcakes and cakes. It’s a word I have always loved – it’s short and simple, yes – but it’s also playful and full of energy – and seems to fit candy perfectly.
In terms of branding, the candy came first. I started with caramels and moved on to lollipops – soon I had developed an entire line of candies ranging from those two to fruit chews and marshmallows. Once all the candies came together it was obvious I was dealing with products that could stand up to very particular branding – and I knew it needed to be bold and simple – but that it also needed to capture the personalities of the candies yet not get in their way. To find the balance between strong branding to support a great product and a great product to support a strong brand – that’s the trick. And I think I achieved that with QUIN.
Where do you pull inspiration for new types and flavors of candy? We also notice you pin a lot of awesome Yo MTV Rap images – how has that influenced your shop’s visual space?
Something that I believe in strongly is that many memories that people have are tied to food. I remember the majority of the best and worst times of my youth because of the food I was eating. I remember every road trip I took based on the car snacks I ate, I remember my highest highs and my lowest lows mostly because of food. When I’m looking for inspiration I pull from my own memories a lot – but I also like to talk with friends and coworkers about their experiences to see what’s there. I use this as a huge part of the inspiration that it takes to create a new type of candy.
Then for flavors of new candies I take inspiration from the world around me – in Portland we have some amazing farmers and small batch makers – and their stories and goals are just so exciting to me that it’s hard to not include their stuff in our candies. I know a 72 year old woman who runs her apple farm with the help of just one other woman in her 30’s. I know a young couple who just recently started operating their own cranberry bog. I know another couple who quit their jobs in social work to start a hot sauce company. All of the stuff they are growing and making is outstanding – figuring out ways to work with them (and to incorporate their ingredients into our candy) is the best way I know how to honor their hard work.
Yo! Mtv Raps is very influential in the entire vibe of QUIN – from our graffiti wall to our oversized neon signage – it’s all very graphic with pops of bright yellow. And we play old school hip hop in the shop – a refreshing approach to the world of candy, we think!
What is your candy making process like? Any particular sound track that needs to play or a specific breakfast that gets you prepped for the day’s creative process?
I like things void of chaos and clutter. I generally start the process with a spotless workspace and total quiet. There’s a lot of thinking that goes in to making candy, and it’s actually a very sensory-driven endeavor – watching sugar while it’s cooking – you can start to tell just by how it’s bubbling how hot it is – eyes, ears, nose – everything gets involved. Once I get into my groove though, the music comes on. Justin Timberlake makes pretty great candy-making music. And so does Beyonce. Plus, all the old school hip hop you can throw at me.
I eat plain, whole milk yogurt or some other form of full fat dairy every morning. I am a huge believer in dairy products.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a small business owner and how has that helped shape the future of your products or retail outlets?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned, over the last 10 years of small business ownership, is that I am really the only permanent point in any of this. Staff, right hands, money, kitchens, ingredients, rules, media coverage, customer types – all of it is this ever-changing part of business. I sit in the center of this kind of swirling, crazy, whirling mass and attempt to get things to stick…and they do stick. But to think that they’ll stick forever isn’t reality. So, I work to get them to stick, then when they start to loosen up I work to figure out what’s next. Nothing stops, everything keeps moving – and that’s what I love about business. I think the ability to deal with the uncertainties and the crazy nervous anxiety-filled days is what makes or breaks a person as an entrepreneur. I get super stressed out and have plenty of sleepless nights, sure – but most of the time the challenge is actually fun.
Understanding that things keep moving is very helpful in terms of our products – we have to be able to adapt if a particular ingredient isn’t available – really a million things could crop up that force us to figure out a plan b. The same applies to our retail location – all sorts of stuff can crop up at any moment and nothing ever really stays the same. I try to always be ready and to always adapt.
I truly, truly respect any person who is working towards something they really believe in – no matter what it is. It can get so hard sometimes, you know? But sticking to it – and honoring / recognizing the bad times while enjoying the easier times when they come – it’s all part of it.
If there was one particular candy you had to chose as “THE ONE” for the rest of your life (your own or otherwise) what would it be and why?
Chocolate is a very broad answer so I won’t say chocolate. Even though: chocolate.
I really love our Twizzlie Rolls so much. Chocolate chews with a hint of sea salt and a dash of coffee. I love them, I love them, I love them. But I have also been known to enjoy a handful of Hot Tamales like nobody’s business!
What’s next? Any new territories in candy making or flavor profiles you’d like to explore?
I LOVE THIS QUESTION. I have a couple of things.
The first is that I’m working with a local dairy company to develop a line of flavored milks inspired by my candy recipes. Like I said at the start, I love dairy products (SO MUCH) and milk inspired by my candy flavors seems to be a very natural extension of the QUIN brand – so I’m exploring it. I just put the finishing touches on the chocolate flavor and it is so good that it makes my toes curl (think very chocolaty with hints of cinnamon and real vanilla bean.) I am hoping to launch with four flavors of milk, and we will package the milks in 8 oz cartons that will be so perfectly designed like all other QUIN products.
The next is that I’m working on a cinnamon milk chewy candy – as a kid I loved to stir Atomic Fireballs in to my milk – this candy is a take on that flavor (and memory!)
We are also in the process of moving into a new kitchen (see above about nothing being permanent!) and it will be open to the public. All of QUIN will be housed in one spot – office, sales, inventory, packaging and candy making. We are calling it the QUIN Candy Lab and have some fun stuff planned including tours, classes and a couple of pop up dining events.
photos courtesy of soda pop pr & the quin candy instagram account
Looking for more candy coated inspiration from the makers and shakers in the culinary and product design world?
Check out more DXD Sweet Talk interviews over here!