Dylan Lauren was born with retailing in her blood. She is, after all, the daughter of Ralph Lauren, one of the greatest retailers of our generation. But it was on Dylan’s fifth birthday that she had a small epiphany that eventually led to her current career. She saw the movie classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and dreamed of one day opening up a spectacular candy store of her own. Dreams occasionally do come true, and Dylan opened Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City in 2001. Since then, she has expanded her candy empire to include locations in Orlando and Houston, and Roosevelt Field Mall and East Hampton in New York state. In 2008 the New York City flagship store was renovated, growing from 10,000 to 15,000 square feet – and making it the world’s largest candy store. The third floor now houses a café, offering classic soda fountain favorites, over 100 ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors, 18 types of Belgian hot chocolate and a bakery full of sweet treats. Dylan’s latest accomplishment is the publication of her first book, Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life (Clarkson Potter, 2010). Sprinkled with candy history and trivia and organized by events and holidays, this book shows how to use classic candies in innovative, creative ways. Following is a short interview with Dylan and a few recipes from the Halloween section of her book.
What attracted you to confection retailing?
I’ve always loved visiting massive supermarkets and getting lost in the cereal and candy aisles, seeing all the new products and fun packages. I also travelled and saw tons of candy all around the world that I couldn’t find in my local candy store. So I combined my love of exploring and compiling unique products I could sell altogether under a very creative roof — a giant candy/Willy Wonka-themed design store that allows customers to experience the fun of shopping and seeing new candy.
What is your confection philosophy?
I look for unique design first—meaning great graphic design, a creative shape to the package or products, perhaps a sculptural shape, bright pop-art-like colors. I like companies that also can invent new themed products for the various holidays and occasions. Then I taste the product—but I do assume anything at the tradeshow is going to be quality and obviously we want items that appeal to serious candy and chocolate lovers.
How important is product packaging?
Extremely. This is what separates the mass items one buys for self consumption and throws out, from the more special, gift purchases one gives to a loved one to cherish and celebrate an important moment or occasion.
Why did you add a café to the store?
I always loved going to buy frozen yogurt at the little yogurt stop, or cookies and chai latte or coffee at the coffee shop, a birthday cake or muffin at the bakery. But there wasn’t one place in NYC where one could actually see all these delicious desserts together and actually sit down at a table with friends, to enjoy them. I also felt people wanted a place that had nostalgic treats that were also hip, uniquely designed and cool enough to hang with their friends.
How do you develop items to serve in the café?
We enjoy the ever-changing colors and shapes of every holiday throughout every component of our store and it translates into the café. So, for example, if Easter is bunnies, marshmallows, and pastels, you can bet the ice cream is pastel colors with swirls of marshmallow, the cupcakes are shaped like bunnies and the martinis may be jelly bean flavored. We also launch a lot of products with other companies, so, for example, when we launch and co-brand items for the new Smurf film, everything’s going to be Smurfiliciously blue!
What are your biggest challenges at Dylan’s Candy Bar?
We have so many little businesses operating in one company that it can be overwhelming. There’s the café, the bar, party rooms, wholesale businesses, my book, opening new stores, etc.
Who is your target market?
Anyone who is a candy lover and in touch with their inner child.
Where do you see the confection business heading in the next decade?
I see it always being a big business and recession proof. But I see more prominence in healthier products—like our portion-controlled 100-calorie chocolate bars—or allergy-free and/or organic.
Tell us about your book.
It is not a cookbook. Rather, it’s a lifestyle coffee table book with mouthwatering photos of candy, tons of recipes, craft instructions and ideas for how to use candy to decorate, entertain and celebrate every holiday and special occasion. There’s also candy trivia, fun facts, and personal memoirs.
What is your favorite dessert?
Marshmallow fluff (sometimes on soft-serve vanilla ice cream) and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.