Inside The Pride Box: Jack Bessudo of Sugarox Candy Studio

What is the name of your company? 

Sugarox Candy Studio LLC

When was the company founded? 

2015

Tell us the story of how you brought your company to life.

We started making candy in our Candy Studio down in Mexico City. The original concept for Sugarox was that we would handcraft candy in our shop,we would give our customers a unique candy moment. It's not everyday Willy Wonka swings the doors open to the factory, and that's kind of what it felt like. We were swingin the doors open to the somewhat secret world of candy making. No golden ticket, at Sugarox everyone got to participate. It was not until after a couple of years of making candy at our shop, that we decided to bring our most popular candy to the USA. We used to called those candies tamalitos, because they looked like tiny Tamales, so when it came time to actually come up with a brand for our little candy pillows filled with Chili Lime and Sea Salt, we trademarked the name Tamalitoz with a "z", and so began the very fun part which was the branding.

I wanted the brand to look fun but also feel expensive. The challenge that we faced was that most people think Mexican candy, they automatically think inexpensive, stack it high, sell it cheap products. Tamalitoz are hand made, and although we are inspired by the flavors of traditional Mexican Candy, we wanted to create our own space. A fancy Mexican Candy. We started with 4 flavors: Divine Watermelon, Lip Smacking Mango, Tantalizing Tamarind, and Cucumber Extravaganza. Very camp, fabulous, and yes, very Gay. 

How did you feel after it launched?

Excited, nervous, and proud. When you dive into something so full on, and you find yourself actively involved in everything from production of the candy, to design and branding, to sales and distribution, there is no way of looking at it as a simple business venture. It is your blood sweat and tears, and yes there has been lots of that, especially the first couple of years. But we dove into this fully believing that Tamalitoz would find its space in the market.

Where do you draw your design inspiration from?

As an ex-advertising guy I always told my team that we build brands based on what the consumer wants and needs, always through the eyes of the consumer.  When you are lucky enough to build your own business and make your own brand, and get to be the creative behind it, that consumer first philosophy goes out the window. You do it for yourself, its about placing your values, your aesthetic. You do it because you love it, and that in itself is an exercise in total self indulgence. You just hope it resonates with whoever buys it.

I find inspiration in anything from RuPaul's drag race, to a movie or a book, a meal at a great restaurant. Anything and everything can provoke a lightbulb moment. You would be surprised.  

Why was it important to you to create an “out and proud” LGBTQ+ company?

I feel that as gay small business owners your messaging comes from a more authentic place. Big brands like Skittles, Absolute and Coca Cola may target a gay audience, and that is great- but for them, it's about marketing and selling. If we wanted Tamalitoz to reflect our personal values, there was no way around it, the brand would have a gay aura.

Was there a defining moment in your company’s history (so far) when you knew you created something special?

We did our first trade show in 2017. It's a huge event called the Sweets and Snacks Show. We had never been to one. Dec and I very naively took some cases of candy, had a display banner printed and set up our booth. As we were setting up, all I could think of was "what have we gotten ourselves into". On both sides of us were these very professional looking brands, with flashing lights and high production value.

There we were, couple of oldish guys, doing something for the first time (that does not happen very often). We were nervous- what would people think? Our nerves subsided significantly after just a couple of hours. A small line had formed at our booth of some very excited buyers wanting to know more about our brand.  

What has been the reaction of customers to your brand?

It had been mostly positive. When people taste Tamalitoz, the overwhelming reaction is "Wow".  That also has become one of our brand missions. Creating more Wow candy moments.

Any special customer stories that you want to share?

Recently we got a message from a consumer wanting to say thank you. His mother passed away last year, and he has had a really hard time dealing. He just recently bought a pouch of Tamalitoz, and made him smile because he knew his mom would have loved them as she was a huge fan of Mexican candy. He said that now everytime he has Tamalitoz he smiles, and great memories of his mom come to him. That was everything! ❤️

At Fruitloots, we call all the amazing products that we find our “loot”. What's a favorite piece of “loot” you have created?

I love our Cherry It's a Fire Tamalitoz. I call them our Chicano candy. A real Mexican American fusion of candy flavors. 

Where do you see your company in 10 years?

We hope to have launched a couple of brands on the market. Big enough to make a positive influence in our community, but small enough to keep it authentic. 

If you could do a special collaboration with any person in the world, who would it be and why?

There is an amazing contemporary Mexican Artist/Painter, Manuel Solano.  Manuel's work is beautiful, and powerful. Manuel's story resonates with me on many levels. Manuel is from Mexico City, he is able to blur gender lines, lives with HIV, and has lost his sight to it. Manuel is for sure, too cool to work with someone like us, but he is an Icon, and I would love to collaborate on something. Tamalitoz plays with the idea of Sweet and Spicy, Naughty and Nice. I would love to see Manuel's interpretation of that.

Check out a quick YouTube video about Manuel, a true inspiration.

Any advice to queer entrepreneurs?

Let your Queerness be your guide! 

If you could throw a party, with an unlimited budget and you could invite anyone, tell us about the party and who would be there! 

It would be an ICON extravaganza! Theme would be Sweet and Spicy, think Elton John's Oscar party, with a bit of Pose style ballroom, but with a Mexican Twist. 

Last question- If you could be any fruit, what would it be and why?

Banana obviously!

For more information on Jack & Dec and to check out the rest of their Tamalitoz Collection, click here

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Photos courtesy of Jack Bessudo / Sugarox Candy Studio

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