There are things in life that just beckon the body to move, to feel a certain way, to remember a memory that transports you back to your childhood, or a taste that conjures up nostalgia for a time gone by.
Rachel and her husband started Sticky 15 years ago after feeling stuck in their respectful professions. They were looking for something with a little bit more flexibility, balance and kickstart an organisation. Rachel got her PhD in genetics and used to study drug development while her husband was a lawyer.
They learnt how to make candy from a Danish man, a very traditional process from Northern Europe, that goes back a long way. Finding something that they both loved and building a life around it was the challenging part.
‘Candy making is such a beautiful process. It’s really lovely to have people come and watch, they seem to respond to it. It’s also a nice way to have an immediate response from the customers about what you do and see how much they love it as well.’ Rachel said.
At first, Rachel found it physically intimidating, it is very hot, you are working with molten sugar, which is like glass, a furnace where the potential to injure yourself, while standing over it by a table, is huge. She has had to learn to master that feeling.
‘I really enjoy the handmade process, I can start with a kilo of sugar and I can come out with a beautiful piece of candy that people can enjoy,’ Rachel said.
‘That is the process that I really love and playing around with the colours and the designs, I find that process really satisfying.’
Initially, Sticky was not a form of creative expression. Rachel and her husband were looking for something that was beyond the office walls and more than sitting behind a desk sifting through a pile of documents.
What they discovered along the way is that candy making is a beautiful creative process. They have embraced that side of the business and taking pleasure in something that they are creating using their own hands while the customer watches on.
‘If you actively engage with the customers and teach them process, they are invested in the time, they really appreciate the art,’ Rachel said.
‘The candy you see on the shelves come off a machine in 10 tonne batches and are distributed around the world. Here, you see how it is made, and our customers are responding to that. People want to know where their food and products come from, how they are made.’
There is something nostalgic about eating warm candy, you instantly feel like a child again. Watching the candy making process is truly hypnotic, the art, the manipulation of the sugar, the tasting and before you know it, 30 minutes has gone by while you watched the candy come to life. It is the freshest candy that you will ever try.
According to the team behind Sticky, it’s a simple process. You start off boiling 10 kilos of sugar, water and glucose and you bring that to a specific temperature. That temperature is their trade secret, one that is well kept. You boil these ingredients and you add the flavour.
‘You pour that mixture onto a cooling table that takes the heat out of the candy, turning it from a molten texture to a more plasticine or clay-like texture that is more malleable and we can work with it,’ Rachel said.
‘Once it is malleable, you can add your colours, cut it up and take it to a heating table and at that point you can construct the candy. The sculptural process begins.’
It is a 3-dimensional sculpture that is being constructed from the inside out. You must be able to think in 3-dimensions and have an understanding of how colours work together and how that creates a beautiful piece of candy at the end.
‘Once that is done, you get a big 10-kilogram log of candy, we just pull it out into thin rods and cut up into pieces which takes time. The cutting up of the candy into pieces is what takes up most of our time. Then from there you have the finished product,’ Rachel said.
More than half of what Sticky make is customised products. They do a lot of customised candy for weddings and corporate events. This is an important part of their business that took them a while to get off the ground. People had to be educated as to what could be done and what is involved in the process.
‘For example, the traditional wedding gift is sugared almonds. You have to educate people about what you are doing, about their expectations behind that and then get them to give something non-traditional a go,’ Rachel said.
When someone comes into the Sticky store for customised candy, a conversation takes place about what they could make, a logo, 17 letter word candy, colours to match the corporate colours. It’s a relationship between them and the client, and the product has unique outcomes but also limitations.
‘Our job is to always take on board client’s great ideas, but with an understanding of the best way to make the candy so that it meets their needs, and is done in the best way. After seeing the candy being made, they appreciate and understand that it is a process. They understand that the process has its limitations,’ Rachel said.
‘There are limitations, however, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall effect. You can create something beautiful within the restrictions.’
Sticky started out in Australia, and has now seen it expand globally in 10 other countries, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, UAE, Los Angeles. This year another Sticky opened in the Philippines and another will be opening soon in Iran.
‘It is quite organic, we don’t advertise and we are not looking for franchisees, we don’t have a marketing team, it is just my husband and I. We tend to do these things quite slowly, someone approaches us, they have to be interested in candy,’ Rachel said.
What Sticky has done is not only provide employment within tough economic times but they have fostered a community of candy makers who share similar ideas and aesthetics. A mix of people from all over the world who are really into the candy that they make.
‘I know it sounds cliché but it is like a family, I have known these people for years now, starting families of their own. We have created a lovely group of people who enjoy the process. They love the candy. Finding this group of people is what we have been most successful in,’ Rachel said.
With these relationships, there is also an exchange of skills and opportunities of employment, where candy makers will come to the Sydney store to experience how others make their candy and vice versa as a form of skills exchange.
‘A lot of the candy makers in Asia are amazing. They have taken what we do and have gone in another different direction. They do things slightly different, skills develop, skills change, ideas behind how you do it are always changing,’ Rachel said.
Sticky has been involved in the Vivid festival in the past and they plan on getting involved again this year. They generally make candy sculptures and they light them up. Every sculpture is different and they are currently in the idea stage of things for this year.
‘It’s quite transient because sugar absorbs water so it starts to get tacky and sticky and it droops. Whatever we do is transient, which is kind of nice. So, you have to come down and experience it because it won’t be here for long,’ Rachel said.
Sticky also encourage school children and students studying food technology in high school, to come in and watch the process of making candy.
‘I just want people come in and enjoy it, it’s really as simple as that. We want people to come in, to see something they haven’t seen before, and leave with a smile on their face… with a bit of candy in their mouth,’ Rachel said.
Sticky have a busy year ahead of them. Aside from their new store in the Philippines and expansion to other countries on the horizon, their shop in the rocks will be getting a new fit out and they plan to be back by June with a whole new steampunk look.
You can find out more about Sticky Lollies at www.sticky.com.au and on their social channels, but the best way to experience is to go down and watch the process yourself. And of course, warm candy.