Meet the founder of Candytopia, a Willy Wonka-esque experience that just opened its latest installation in NYC
This tastemaker turned candy into a sweet career.
Jackie Sorkin went from charging $500 to cater a friend’s birthday party when she started her events business in 2008, to becoming a partner in the multi-million dollar Candytopia pop-up confectionary experience. The traveling candy-filled theme park features famous works from masters like Van Gogh and Andy Warhol recreated with treats like gummy bears and licorice. There’s even a Mona Lisa mosaic composed of 6,000 jellybeans.
“When I was a kid I was obsessed with Willy Wonka: One day you find a golden ticket, and your golden ticket might lead you to owning your own chocolate factory,” Sorkin, clad in magenta pink pants and a lollipop necklace, told Moneyish at the new location for her candy theme park near New York City’s Penn Station. “I feel like it came true for me.”
It sure did. And the self-proclaimed “candy stylist to the stars” is still reeling from the sugar high.
“Candy was always my love. Almost a decade ago I started playing with candy — styling it; making it beautiful; doing events,” said Sorkin, 39. She whipped up cake pops before they were big at Starbucks, and dished to Moneyish that her version is one of Oprah’s favorite things. “Then TV came calling,” she added. “We started pursuing candy art, whether it was jewelry or chotskies. I said, ‘I can make art out of this.’”
The candy castle has already attracted tastemakers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, who attended the sweet escape’s inaugural run in Santa Monica, Calif. last April. Now it’s debuting Wednesday in New York City, with tickets starting at $34 for adults and $26 for kids ages 4 to 12.
“We’re going to literally flood New York with our confetti,” said Sorkin.
Sorkin, who calls herself the “Candy Queen,” began her Los Angeles-based business Hollywood Candy Girls in 2008 by creating candy art and sculptures at sugar-filled events for the likes of the Kardashians, Katy Perry and Oprah. She landed her own reality show “Candy Queen” on TLC in 2011, which followed her life running the business and raising a family with plans to expand her growing company.
She eventually teamed up with business partners John Goodman — who has headed retailers like The Gap, KMart and Sears — and set designer Zac Hartog to develop the Candytopia concept. Goodman told Moneyish that more than 150,000 people visited Candytopia at its first installation in Santa Monica in June, raking in an estimated $5 million in ticket sales, Moneyish calculated. Candytopia will hit San Francisco next.
“We exceeded all figures and expectations. We’re growing at an alarming rate. San Francisco is already selling out,” said Sorkin.
The Candytopia exhibit adds special details catered to whichever city it’s running in. So for its New York City debut, guests will be greeted with a massive yellow taxi cab made out of giant gummy bananas as they enter the sweet space. And then stepping into the interactive exhibit is like walking into the Hasbro board game CandyLand, as a jolly guide leads the way through rainbow gumdrop trees (each containing 42,000 grams of sugar and 98,000 individual pieces of candy.) Other rooms contain portrait art, like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portrait crafted from bits of black licorice, and white and yellow jelly beans. There’s also a giant statue of Lady Liberty (looking extra curvy!) draped in green jelly beans, and interactive rooms with a confetti gun and a pillow faux-marshmallow pool that kids (and adults) can dive into.
The exhibits are not edible, but guests will have plenty of opportunities to sample candy along the way.
It’s no surprise that retailers are turning to interactive (and Instagrammable) pop-up experiences as the traditional brick-and-mortar business model struggles with the rise of e-commerce. The pop-up shop industry was valued at $50 billion in 2016, according to statistics from retail marketing database PopUp Republic.
And despite the booming wellness industry and the anti-sugar movement, Americans are still eating sweets. The U.S. candy market is forecast to reach $19.6 billion by 2025, according to market research firm Grand View Research, Inc.
Candytopia is the latest money maker to pop-up amid a whirlwind of other Willy-Wonka-esque wonderlands. When the Museum of Ice Cream made its debut in New York in 2016, it sold 300,000 tickets within five days (a whopping $5,400,000 in sales at $18 a pop) before touring to other cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. Similarly, the Egg House had customers scrambling through candy pools and oversized egg art when it hatched in New York City in April for a month, selling out tickets for $18 a pop. And a Museum of Pizza is slated to hit the trendy NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan in October, billed as “the world’s first experiential pizza adventure” promising immersive rooms like a pizza beach, film screenings and free slices.
“Entertainment is changing, and I think we’ve created good entertainment for people of all ages,” Sorkin said. “I make everyone’s life sweeter.”
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