The next big idea. That’s what Frank Sheftel thought he had back in 1984. As a district manager for the Ultimate Nut & Candy Co. in Los Angeles, the arrival of the Summer Olympics to the city had triggered a marketing opportunity; in other words, the event begged for chocolate medals.
Unfortunately, none of his superiors thought much of Sheftel’s idea. Convinced that management was missing a “golden” opportunity, the 22-year-old entrepreneur quit his job and moved back to his parent’s home in Los Angeles to capitalize on the idea.
“I was careful not to infringe on anyone’s copyrights, so I called them Los Angeles summer medals,” he says. After purchasing the moulds at the Candy Factory in Hollywood, he and his parents began producing and selling the product.
Placement started with a couple of shops and then spread to Rexall’s drug stores.
“Nobody else was doing anything like this,” he still says in amazement. “We wound up selling thousands of them.”
Such entrepreneurial success at the first go prompted Sheftel to open up a small candy shop in the then evolving Melrose Avenue shopping district in Los Angeles. The growing popularity of this “new wave” Rodeo Drive-like neighborhood gave the young chocolate maker his first taste of retail success. It also taught him the value of choosing the right partner; a subsequent lawsuit by his co-investor eventually derailed the business venture.
It was at that time that Sheftel discovered that the owner of the Candy Factory in North Hollywood was looking to sell her business. With the help of his parents, the entrepreneur purchased the combination retail shop/chocolate supplies and production facility in 1991.
There wasn’t any hesitation on Sheftel’s part in making the deal; he had fond memories of his parents’ vending business (M*G Vending) that the family operated back in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“My parents would take me back them to all the spots they serviced, from delis and bars to butcher shops and bowling alleys,” he says. “They operated out of a white van and I’d help them fill the machines, although I filled my mouth more than the machines.”
In taking over the Candy Factory, the Sheftel family quickly discovered the vagaries of their Hollywood location.
“We received an order for 20,000 chocolate telephones for a Fox telethon a week after taking over,” he explains. “We had to bring in the former owner to help us out.”
Indeed, catering to the stars does have its benefits and pressures. As Sheftel notes, the Candy Factory has make everything from wedding favors for Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley to a chocolate table for the popular Talk television show. It’s also the official candy maker for the Hollywood Bowl’s opening night.
The company has also turned hosting chocolate-making birthday parties for the children into a must for celebrities; the offspring of Danny Devito, Jason Alexander and Pia Zadora – just to name a few – having celebrated their events at the Candy Factory.
Thus, it’s nothing for a close friend like Rip Taylor to walk in and share the latest comings and goings amongst A- and B-list actors and actresses populating Los Angeles. It’s also nothing for many of the hotels to call on Sheftel and his crew to create last-minute favors, knowing that he has the flexibility and capability to customize any piece of candy.
Currently, sales from wholesale chocolate products and wholesale chocolate supplies (ingredients, moulds, etc.) each account for 40 percent of the Candy Factory’s revenues. The remainder comes from retail sales and special custom orders, Sheftel explains.
But there’s another opportunity that Sheftel believes the Candy Factory can grow with it. Ironically, it also has to do with the Olympics.
“I have a radio show called Frank Talk on LA Talk Radio.com,” Sheftel says. “I’ve been doing it for a few years. Well, through my social network via a friend of a friend, I connected with Tai Babilonia, the former two-time time Olympian and World Champion pairs figure skater. One thing led to another and I asked her to be on the show. I give each guest on the show some chocolate, since the Candy Factory is a sponsor. So I gave her some chocolate ice skates. Well, we hit it off really well.”
That connection quickly led to Sheftel offering her the position of permanent co-host on his radio show and changing the name to Frank & Tai Talk. He also proposed a line of chocolates for Babilonia.
The Tai Treats allow consumers to “glide into the world of sweets,” he explains. Featuring chocolate ice skates, chocolate butterflies and 24-kt, gold-dusted chocolate crescent moons, the confections come in milk, dark, white and strawberry pink chocolate varieties.
Although skates are an obvious choice for the moulded line, chocolate lovers may be curious as to why Babilonia chose butterflies and crescent moons?
The butterfly symbolizes Babilonia spreading her wings and soaring to the sky, reminiscent of her skating style, explains Sheftel. “And the golden crescent moon represents the one Tai wears around her neck for more than 35 years, a gift from her friend, singer Stevie Nicks,” he says.
Since the soft launch on Mother Day’s, the line of Tai Treats has quickly picked up interest, from chocolate lovers to avid skaters.
“She already had 5,000 friends on her Facebook page,” Sheftel says. More incredibly, Babilonia actually comes into the Candy Factory to help produce her line of chocolate products. Her personality and the coming Winter Olympics provide a perfect springboard for broadening sales, the Hollywood candy maker says.
It’s also opening up another star-linked opportunity, the chance to produce chocolates for Chaka Khan again (he originally created the Chakalates line in 1997). The ten-time Grammy award winner had re-launched her line of gourmet Chakalates, a collection of dark chocolates featuring different fillings, earlier this year.
Sheftel, who admits he and Chaka “were an item,” many years ago, remain good friends. He has produced her chocolates for special occasions during the past few months and hopes to re-establish a business relationship as her permanent supplier.
However that opportunity evolves, Sheftel continues to delight in being a candy maker to the stars.
“You never know who’s going to walk in,” he says. “More importantly, it’s exciting to be in this industry for so long and still feel the passion. We’re all about producing candy from the heart.”
And yes, they can make chocolate hearts, too!