One thing you’ll never hear come out of Jackie Sorkin’s mouth is a complaint. Self-described as “psychotically driven,” Jackie, the CEO of The Hollywood Candy Girls Inc. and star of TLC’s Candy Queen, has taken her candy empire from LA to Asia, back to LA and now to NYC – and doesn’t plan on stopping for a breath anytime soon.
Her passion and wildly wicked personality are evident in everything she creates, most recently, Candytopia, part interactive art installation, part theme park, and all sugar high. The website asks, “What if an eccentric chocolatier and a daredevil pop star had a whirlwind romance, got married while skydiving, and had a glamorous, glittering love child who grew up to rule a small nation? Welcome to Candytopia, where colossal candyfloss constructions meld with a tantalizing taffy twistedness!”
With the opening of her second Candytopia outlet at Penn Plaza (145 W 32nd St.) this week, I sat down with Jackie to discuss her background, sensory overload, and a whole lot of candy.
Photo courtesy: Mathew Tucciarone for Santa Monica Place
Tell us about your background. How did you become a candy artist to the stars?
I was a quirky kid growing up, the daughter of two immigrants who were worked very hard, and I fell in love with Willy Wonka. I was obsessed with the story and that’s where all the principles I live my life by came from — Dream big! Never give up! It’s okay to be a weirdo! I love the creativity, the color, and the fantasy of it all.
I have a very unique background because I feel like I’ve had a hundred jobs. I was working in event production, but always maintained my creativity and loved making and working with food. From there, candy was the medium I stumbled upon. When I realized no one else was experimenting with candy artistically, it become very natural and special for me.
Eventually, I started my own company, Hollywood Candy Girls, and got a phone call from TLC. They were looking to do a Cake Boss-style show with candy called Candy Queen, which I was perfect for. The show was all about this crazy art that my team and I made and catapulted me into the candy-art world. The show was a smash hit in Asia and I was asked to create an art exhibition in Taiwan in 2012 called “Hollywood Candy Queen’s Kingdom.” It was supposed to run for one year, but sold out for four years all across southeast Asia. Then, in 2016, Shanghai came calling and I launched my second tour, “The Candy Darling” which is still touring in China.
Photo courtesy: Candytopia
Then you opened Candytopia in LA in March.
The dream for me was always to come home and tour an experiential, sensory overload, art exhibition. When I saw the success of The Museum of Ice Cream on The Today Show, I knew it was the time to bring what we’d been doing in Asia to the US. I called my manager and said, “We are doing this now.” From there, I connected with the right people including my partners, John Goodman and Zac Hartog – who truly understand me and my business model. John has an amazing retail background and Zac is an incredible designer who’s up for an Emmy right now for creating HBO’s Westworld activation at SXSW.
Describe the experience at Candytopia.
When people think of candy they’re minds either go to Willy Wonka or Candy Land. We’re so ready for a new candy brand and identity to add to the mix. When I was brainstorming names for the experience, I kept coming back to utopia because it represents a space that’s perfect and beautiful. From there, “candy utopia” morphed into Candytopia.
We keep hearing the same feedback from our guests — that the experience feels like a theme park, but we call them “experiential adventures.” With my partners’ talents, we’ve created magical sets that are on the level of a Universal or a Disney World. I’m the type of person that’s fueled by the feeling of sensory overload, so we wanted to create a world filled with elements to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. You’ll have confetti thrown on you, jump in a pool of marshmallows, see unicorns made out of candy, and interact with actors. There are surprises around every corner and you will absolutely leave with a sugar high from all of the free candy and chocolate we give out!
Candytopia is a treat, a special occasion like going to see Mickey Mouse or eating a slice of birthday cake. It’s all special, wonderful, happy feelings. There’s nothing dark or sad when you’re in our experiential adventure. I think the world needs our candy-filled joy and happiness now more than ever. Candytopia is a space where everyone, of all ages, can come together. It’s not millennial or Gen-Z-driven — we’re inclusive of all, exclusive of none.
Photo courtesy: Evan Link
Why did you choose NYC for Candytopia’s second location?
Our team is California-based, so it was natural to kick off our first location here in LA. I grew up in Orange County, but spent my summers in New York and my partner John has worked in the city for a large chunk of his career, so we’re New Yorkers, too. It’s truly the epicenter of the world. With high standards, we, of course, had to venture to New York because if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. We keep using that famous line as all our eyes are on us right now.
If you were to advise an entrepreneur wanting to create their own immersive exhibition, what advice would you give them?
Everyone is trying to figure out the secret sauce to success. I think firstly, you need to create a really strong business model and understand that this world is driven by ticket sales. Since these exhibitions only run for a limited time, your marketing plan needs to be tremendous, too.
So many people are jumping on the “pop-up” band wagon without success because they fail to understand that this is a real business, requiring a real business strategy, a whole lot of work, and a smart team. Seeing how things are being saturated so quickly, your concept has to be brilliant and new.
For me, success has come from 10+ years of passion, persistence, and struggle. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who have lost it all and started over again and again. You have to plan for the unexpected — what if people don’t come? What if your marketing efforts fail? You have to remember that this is a gamble and it may fail.
Photo courtesy: Mathew Tucciarone for Santa Monica Place
What role does social media play in your advertising and promotion?
Social media is everything. How can you successfully sell tickets without it? We didn’t want to spare any expense with Candytopia’s marketing and PR — our standard of excellence is high and we want the best or nothing at all. Implementing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in conjunction with online reviews is our primary mode of ticket sales. For entrepreneurs without a lot of money to dedicate to paid marketing, social media is a free tool. Totally free.
Our guests are what sell Candytopia — their photos, their experiences, their videos, and their Snaps represent exactly what we’re selling.
The explosion of social media shows me that our society is less about stuff and more about experiences, especially shared experiences. Strangers can come together around a shared interest, take each other’s photos, and have genuine face-to-face interactions. It’s beautiful to see.
Of the more than 12 interactive installations at Candytopia, which one is your favorite?
Looking at it from my artistic side, the art gallery, where you slow down to experience beautiful Van Gogh’s and Andy Warhol’s, which we call Candy Warhol's, is the room where I feel that creativity is really appreciated. Yes, we’re experiential. Yes, we’re interactive. Yes, we’re fun. But, as an artist, you want people to appreciate and take in your craft.
I have tons of artists on my team and we meticulously placed hundreds of thousands of millions of candy on these detailed pieces, so I know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them. To see people taking in the work as they would in any big art gallery is really special to me, especially when they realize what it’s made of. We make sure everyone walks away with tons of really good candy — we’re very generous about that. Our guests leave with a happiness high that brings me to my knees every time I see it.
Photo credit: Candytopia
|Jackie Sorkin is Hollywood's resident "Candy Girl" and CEO of The Hollywood Candy Girls INC. She is best known for her starring role on TLC's “Candy Queen” and appearances on E!, Food Network and Cooking Channel. She’s amassed a huge following nationwide and across the globe for her incredible candy art sculptures and curated sweet experiences for special events of all kinds. She has created some of Hollywood’s biggest and sweetest candy designs for more than eight years and earned a celebrity following for her fantastical sugar statement pieces. From working with Katy Perry on visuals for her candy-filled “California Dreams” tour to exclusive special events for Oprah, Rihanna and the Kardashians to high-profile social events for clients including Disney, Amazon, Sephora, NBC Universal, MAC, Ritz Carlton, Sony, Benefit Cosmetics, among many more. More information about Jackie is available here.|
Cover photo courtesy: Mathew Tucciarone for Santa Monica Place