Part Willy Wonka dream factory, part edible pop art gallery, Dylan’s Candy Bar is a palate-pleasing phenomenon. The mastermind behind this sweet-tooth sensation is “Candy Queen” — a nickname bestowed by celebrity fans like Oprah — Dylan Lauren.
You likely have heard of the candy store CEO and founder’s parents (fashion icon Ralph Lauren and author/artist Ricky Lauren), but the entrepreneur/author/mom is so much more than the sum of her parts.
With 28 outposts around the globe — including New York City (the flagship is one of the world’s largest candy stores), Kuwait and Miami — and an insatiable A-list following (Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson, David Beckham and Taylor Swift are all fans), Lauren’s confectionary empire shows no signs of slowing. In fact, the Candy Queen debuted a new location in Honolulu on January 16 in all its saccharine splendor with a life-sized lollipop tree, candy cane columns, a giant chocolate rabbit and beach views for days.
We caught up with the creative force to find out what inspired her love of sweets, why she chose to head to Hawaii and why she always carries a tennis ball in her carry-on.
Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to open a candy/confectionary store?
I love candy. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and I always found candy wherever I went. I sniffed it out as I was traveling. I would tend to find the gumball machine in the middle of like Israel, or wherever I was traveling.
I also love the colors and textures and shapes of candy. To me, it’s like art, so my passion for candy has evolved from loving eating it to looking at it to collecting it because of the packaging and the colors — sort of making my own art out of candy, making mosaics out of gumballs or jelly beans or decoupaging with candy wrappers.
I also like the lifestyle side, like finding cool T-shirts that say funny things like “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.” It’s a fun topic in all parts of products.
How did your brand evolve beyond just sweet treats?
It was always meant to be more than just a candy store. When you look at our logo, there’s four icons on it: there’s a lollipop, an ice cream cone, a present box and a martini glass. I always knew that, to fill 15,000 square feet, we had to have more than just candy.
And I feel like there’s more to candy than just candy, so the ice cream cone represents the café, and the ice cream and desserts we have…we have a party room where we do parties and activities for kids of all ages — we’ve had an 80th birthday, we do corporate events, we do things like licorice limbo — and the present box means corporate gifts, presents and favors; the lollipop signifies the candy; and with the martini glass and the word “bar” [in the name], we do have a liquor license in some of our stores and we sell candy cocktails, we have bars in some of our stores, and at the parties we also have signature cocktails. So, all of these were intentional from the beginning.
Did you have fun creating the cocktails?
You know, I don’t really drink. If I was going to try something, it would be like a Baileys Irish Cream or a cotton candy thing. I don’t like beer or anything like that, so I always tend to be drawn towards the sweeter things, like a peppermint schnapps. It’s fun to be able to appeal to all ages, knowing that there’s something sweet in every product for not just kids.
Dylan’s Candy Bar has an impressive celebrity following. Have you ever been starstruck by one of your famous fans?
I’ve missed some of the celebrities when they’ve come in, like Michelle Obama and her daughter. I think they came in at a random time. And then Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King came in randomly. Half the time, you don’t know when people are coming.
We have had celebrities ask us to close the store down for their visit, which we did not do. We had [Bill] Clinton in — he called in advance — and they had their entire security team talking to all our staff. It’s fun when that happens. We sold candy cameras at the time, and we sold out because everyone was taking pictures with him.
A Kardashian will come in, and they kind of have their paparazzi already on them, so it’s good for us! It’s fun to hear about, or to hear our staff buzzing about, somebody [coming in] at the Miami store or the L.A. store, like their favorite athlete or someone. They get excited and it’s fun to have that element.
We have an area in our store called “Famous Favorites,” where we have celebrities sign a mini-bin and fill it with their favorite candy. That’s a big attraction for people.
Do you curate the candy collection, or do you prefer to just collect as many sweets as possible?
The whole point of Dylan’s Candy Bar is to be sort of a museum of candy, so it’s very important, I think, that the products we’re carrying are sort of featured in a way that they’re displayed like art. In some stores, you’ll see the giant candy cane columns and, in between, will be the bulk bins or under the lollipop tree will be all the candy or in a dripping wall of chocolate bars will be chocolate world. It’s curated in that way.
But even in our nostalgia section — what I get excited about are the graphics on the candy bars are very pop art and sort of Americana, Warhol [inspired] — I would literally sit with my stuff and lay out which color candy bars goes next to which one and which graphics and fonts I like. So, the answer is yes.
And every holiday, we want to boutique some of the more high-end gifts. For Valentine’s Day, we’ll have a whole bunch of chocolate roses and then we have an adult section that’s all like edible lingerie, handcuffs and weird things, candy games and chocolate body paint.
And then there’s a kiddie section, so you kind of have to put things in different storytelling places.
What about your personal collection?
I have a whole office here and at home where, unfortunately, it just becomes a wall of products and packaging I’ve collected everywhere. Some of it is inspiration.
I collect rabbits, too. I have over 3,000 rabbits. When I was in Ecuador, I saw a giant plastic rabbit gumball machine and I bought it. And then, I was in some other random place, and they had some rabbit-candy thing, like a candy dish. Those are my favorites.
And then, [I also collect] pop culture iconography. Like with any cereal characters, like the Froot Loop bird, if they all of a sudden make pillows of it or I’ll find a pair of socks or a T-shirt, [I buy it]. Those are the things that I think are fun.
What inspired you to open a location in Hawaii?
Hawaii was always on my list in terms of being in a resort town and also being in a cosmopolitan place where lots of L.A. people, West Coast people and people from New York travel to — people who are already customers at my other stores.
I think, for me, I happen to love Honolulu and this part of Hawaii. I always feel like I’m going out of America, because it’s so diverse. It’s like New York City, where it has walking traffic, but it’s also 24/7 — there are crowds on the streets all the time. It’s always buzzing because everyone’s on vacation mode. Everyone’s happy. It’s very fun to be there.
Where our store is situated, we’re right across from the beach. I like to work out, so we’ll do a big meeting then I’ll go for a run on the beach and run up to Diamond Head or somewhere. I like the fact that Iron Man [races] are in Honolulu. I run by a million people jogging or surfing or kayaking. It’s my kind of town.
I also love Japanese culture, and I eventually want to be in Japan, so the idea of opening in L.A. and in Hawaii will hopefully lead to understanding more of the Japanese market.
Dylan’s Candy Bar has 28 locations. Do you have a favorite?
I love going to all my locations, especially Hawaii. It makes work fun. Every time I’ve been there, the meetings I’ve had, the people there are very down to earth and they’re [spending time] outside. Like I said, our store is right across from the beach, so we have walking meetings talking about the store.
I love the California location and New York. I like them all. I’m happy where we have stores because they’re places that I like to go. But I’m very excited about Hawaii. I’m hoping I can get my friends to go there. I know it’s a long flight, so we’re trying to figure out how to get people to go. For people on the West Coast, that’s their regular weekend thing, but it is a popular international destination, so I think it’ll be great.
When you’re not traveling for work, where do you like to jet off to?
I love California, but I’m always working when I’m there. I have friends there, too. I just love the beach and the mountains. I like Montauk and the Hamptons. I literally just got back from Colorado. I really enjoyed snowshoeing there.
I really like everywhere that has something different. My favorite place I’ve been is probably New Zealand, because of the diversity of the nature there and all the animals and the people.
Even just getting out and going downtown [can be fun]. I haven’t been downtown in New York City in awhile. I’m trying to take more time to see how the cityscape keeps changing. It depends on the season. I’ve been enjoying the fall outside of the city and driving up to Westchester.
What essentials would we find in your carry-on?
I would say candy. Definitely candy. Definitely gummies. Maybe some oatmeal raisin cookies because I like to pick at things when I’m on flights.
Electrolytes like Emergen-C and Eboost, which is a great jet lag cure for me.
Coconut powder by Laird Hamilton, because I like to put it in my coffee. Water.
I work out a lot and I get very tight sitting for awhile, so I like to roll on this [tennis] ball. I put it under my butt. Those are my main things.