The Candy Maker: Liz Gutman

May 3, 2013

I think I’ll be an astronaut. No, maybe an actor. Nah, I’m gonna make candy! I’ll enroll in the pastry program at the French Culinary Institute where I’ll meet my future business partner. We’ll open a candy shop in Brooklyn and call it Liddabit Sweets. We’ll make delectable candy with lots of love. People will travel far and wide to eat our treats. Or they’ll order them online. We’ll write a book and call it Liddabit Sweets and Candy Cookbook. It will become an IACP finalist (primo standard of cookbook awards). It will inspire the world to make candy at home! …

LIZ4

 

This is a true story (ok, maybe not every detail was planned out this way), but a true story about a Californian turned New Yorker who set out to do something delicious. And did it!

where are you from?
I’m originally from Costa Mesa, CA; or, as I like to call it, the Table By The Sea. I’ve been living in New York since 2001.

what did you want to be when you were a kid?
I desperately wanted to be an astronaut – I actually wanted to be the first woman on the moon.  Aim high! I think that bubble popped when I discovered that you have to basically be in the Air Force and/or get a PhD in engineering and/or be a top specimen of physical fitness in order to even make it into the program, let alone on a shuttle, and I lost my interest. (And now there aren’t even any more shuttles. Sadface.) When I figured out that, as an actor, you could pretend to be an astronaut (or anything you wanted, really), I decided that would be a better route to go.

what do you do now?
I co-own Liddabit Sweets with my business partner Jen King. We make small-batch candy bars, caramels, lollipops, and other goodies at our kitchen space in Sunset Park, and sell at weekend markets and to different retailers. We sell online, too.

what were you doing five years ago?
Five years ago…Yikes.  I was a couple years out of college, frustrated with acting but unsure what to do next. I had an office job that was literally — literally literally, not figuratively literally — to watch commercials all day, and write trivia questions about them for a website that tracked consumer recall. Watching. Commercials. All. Day. My brain will never work the same way. That was the job I quit to work in food.

what’s in typical day of a candy maker?
Well, Jen and I would give you radically different answers, since she heads up production and I’m rarely in the kitchen now. But we basically have 9-to-5 schedules for the time being (it’s our slower season, mind you; the winter holidays are more like 60-80 hour weeks, and I’ll be selling at markets or packaging in the kitchen most of the time), which is nice. So I’m in at 9, and I usually spend the morning doing whatever emails and calls need to be followed up on – media inquiries, customer service, spending time on hold with the bank/internet/insurance people, stuff like that. I work closely with Joan, our right-hand woman/wholesale manager/head of shipping on doing the books, payroll, payables and receivables, and ordering supplies. Afternoons I work on projects that require slightly bigger chunks of time, like writing a newsletter or blog post, or snapping photos of new products to send to our press contacts, or doing research. Interspersed with all that is updating our website and online store, keeping up our social media, and other random tasks. (Like ordering labels, which I did yesterday.Thrills!)

what makes your products special?
Honestly – and this is totally cheesy – it’s the love we put into everything. Less cheesily phrased: we’re really picky, and anything that doesn’t meet our standards is not sold. Period. Everything is made in small batches by people who know what they’re doing and like their jobs. We don’t compromise on ingredients. And – I have to say – we come up with some really amazing stuff.  We have a Pecan Pie bar in the fall that’s my favorite thing we make: a layer of pie crust (made by us from scratch), a center of pecan dulce de leche (ditto – milk + sugar + pecans. It takes all day), and then a layer of bourbon ganache. It is sublime. And that’s a really great example of the balance we strike between whimsical and elegant, I think; we take something that we love or feel nostalgic about, and translate it into something a little more sophisticated. It’s much more than the sum of its parts.

We also make it a point to work with other small/local/family owned businesses whenever possible. It’s not industry standard, and not the cheapest way to do things, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Aside from knowing we use really great ingredients, the relationships you forge with other small businesses are really irreplaceable.

do you get candy burnout?
I eat a lot less of it than I used to! But I still nibble on stuff pretty often – the sea salt caramels and any of the candy bars. Whenever a new seasonal favorite of mine comes into rotation (like the Pecan Pie, or our S’mores bar) I’ll spend a few weeks eating lots of it, and then kind of even out. And I think I’m the worst of the lot. Jen doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and Joan is super healthy. She actually got me into running, and even Jen’s working out now (which is a big deal if you know her).

what is your other dream career?
Oh gosh…acting, I guess. That’s what I did for 12 years before I went to pastry school. I still get the odd voiceover job now and then; but I just wasn’t up for the rejection. It’s unbelievably tough, and I never managed to stop taking it personally. I do miss it, though. Other than that I’d say writing, which I actually get to do! I wrote the chocolate column for Serious Eats for almost two years, which I still can’t believe sometimes. And Jen and I just published our cookbook this past October, after spending over 2 years working on it. Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

you need a vacation. what will you do? the sky is the limit.
I’d love to go to Southeast Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore. I’ve never been to Spain, either, and I’m dying to go; I guess it would depend on how busy I wanted my vacation to be. I have decided I’m going to Iceland this fall, though; it’s not super far and fairly inexpensive, so I’m already saving my pennies.

what do you collect?
National Geographic magazines. It’s the only magazine I currently subscribe to, and many are the rainy days where I’ll just browse through my shelf of them and re-read ones I find particularly interesting.