Jason Lewis, Lollyphile ~ Food Interviews

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jason Lewis, Lollyphile

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Jason Lewis of Lollyphile currently sells two kinds of lollypops: maple bacon and absinthe. How did he end up with those flavors, and why lollypops? Jason tells all in a candid and fun joy ride into the world of candy making.

One random commenter on this post will win a box of Lollyphile lollypops! I will draw the winner on Thursday, September 18th.

Update: The winner of one box of Lollyphile lollypops is Toontz from Okara Mountain • Okara recipes, vegetarian recipes!

Jason LewisJason Lewis checking himself out. He didn't have a single photo of himself with a lollypop. Shocking, no?
How did you get started making lollypops?

Do you want the real version or the marketing version? The real version is more fun.

About two years ago, I started making my own absinthe because it was illegal and kind of fun. Then, some friends of mine up in Seattle started an illegal speakeasy where they had actual in-house gambling and a dress code (you had to wear 1920’s-style clothes or they wouldn’t let you in). They served liquor at all hours and the guy at the coat check was selling pot. It was a totally amazing speakeasy!

My friend came to visit and he was like, "Oh absinthe, can we buy from you?" So, I was like, "Sweet!" I was selling cases of absinthe, just scads of it. Wow, I shouldn’t be telling you this. They [the speakeasy] got busted, because that’s what’s going to happen. Suddenly, I was left with cases of absinthe at my house, which is just an obscene about of absinthe for one person to have. I didn’t know what to do with all of it.

Then, Halloween came around and I’m kind of crafty. So, I made it into lollypops to pass out to my friends. I throw events sometimes. I think about a third of my friend group are all French immigrants and they went nuts for them and loved them. Then, I started selling them at warehouse parties and art shows and stuff around town and people were buying them. That was fun.

Miette is a super fancy candy store here that literally has gumdrop trees. They’re wonderful! In fact, if Miette and Lollyphile were people, Lollyphile would have a huge crush on Miette, but would be kind of embarrassed to ask her on a date. Miette asked, "Can I try a few cases of this?" I was like, "Cool, totally! A retail store wants to carry me, that’s fun."

Then, I threw up a website that just sold those. It was an ugly-ass little website. I was doing it for a class project. That started doing really well. Then, what happened was I kept getting these phone calls from people like 16 year olds in Texas where they would be like, "If I buy some lollypops from you now, would there be any way I could get them in like two days and how fucked up would I be?" I had to explain that, one, you don’t hallucinate from absinthe and two, if you are going to be eating something that makes you hallucinate, you probably want to pay more than two bucks for it. It’s a you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of situation.

Then, I realized that I had to have something else that was not liquor-based or psychotropically-based. So, I thought of bacon - that’s fun, right? Then, I figured out how to do the bacon and I kind of test marketed it at a R. Kelly sing-a-long night. I was passing them out to strangers at this R. Kelly thing and then the next day, on my Yelp page, this one girl had written a 10 stanza poem about the maple bacon lollypops. So, they did well.

Then, Lollyphile got picked up by Daily Candy and I went from being a full-time marketing whore to a full-time confectionery pretty much in the course of three days. Now, that’s what I do.

How did you get interested in making absinthe in the first place?

I went to Burning Man a bunch of times and then one of the camps was just an absinthe camp and they made all these different kinds of absinthe. I was like, "You make this, that’s crazy!" I found a few different recipes and some of them made like 151 proof poison. The first batch I made of it, my girlfriend at the time and I (and this isn’t why we broke up) each had a glass of it, and the next thing we remembered we were waking up on the floor with headaches.

I just kept making it because it was fun, and once I start doing something, I get kind of obsessive-compulsive about doing it really well. I started making it really well. Now, I don’t make my own anymore. I just buy it because I don’t have the time or the wherewithal. Also, it’s legal.

How do you make lollypops?

You make lollypops with sugar and corn syrup and water and a little bit of cream of tartar to prevent crystallization (which I had to learn). I would be selling lollypops and people would be like, "Why are these turning white?" and I would have no idea. Apparently, cream of tartar is an acidic by-product of making wine and it does some chemical magic that I don’t quite understand. But, it does its job well.

So, you mix it all together and you heat it to about 300 degrees and then you have it in a hard crack and you pour it in the mold and then you package it. And, you don’t burn yourself, because if you burn yourself with sugar, it’s insane. It’s not only really hot, but you know how you get boiling water splattered on your hand and you’re like, "Oh, that sucks," and then it’s cool again? You react as though it was boiling water: "Oh that sucks. Oh my god, it still sucks. Oh my god, it still sucks." Then, at that point you have this massive sugar burn on your hand.

I take it you’ve experienced the burn more than once?

Yeah, a couple of thousand times, but not anymore really. Although, I do find myself doing things like I’ll see like sugar dripping over the edge of a pan and my initial instinct is, "Oh, that should be cleaned," and then I run my hand over and then I just sort of curse at myself for the next half hour. Because, it was nobody’s fault but mine.

Jason based the shape of his lollypops on this picture from Lolita.
Why did you decide on lollypops versus doing something else with the extra absinthe?

I was thinking about regular candies which would actually be a hell of a lot easier to make, but lollypops are sexy and they are kind of fun. You have this stick hanging out of your mouth and you get to play with it in your hand. You can sort of hold it.

Then, I decided on the shape for these because of the kind of iconic picture of Lolita from the 1970’s movie where she’s got the heart shaped sunglasses and they’re halfway down her nose and she’s licking lollypops. I was like, "Okay, that’s what I want my lollypop to look like in people’s heads."

Do you make the lollypops at home or do you have a lolly-factory?

I made them at home at first and then once it became a business-business, I realized that I had to be professional. So, I have a kitchen that I rent out in Hunter’s Point. I don’t have a factory yet. Apparently, for the equipment that I would need to get for it, if I could find it used somewhere, it would be a minimum of $100,000 outright, which I really don’t have just sitting around yet.

It’s not just that, it’s just like buying a baby. Then, you have to get a warehouse, then you have to deal with this thing forever, and then also you feel bad about having bought a baby, because that’s apparently illegal in most countries. That was a bad joke. So, no, I don’t have a factory just yet, but someday. It’s my little dream.

Do you still do it all by yourself?

I have part-time workers that come in and help out. I haven’t quite 100% figured out how to hire people. It’s a matter of being able to give them a set 20 hours a week that are definite. I’m really enjoying being self-employed. Like you saw though, getting me to do the interview was a pain in the ass, so imagine me trying to schedule you for work hours. So, again I do have people that are employed, but it's part-time and pretty much just me.

Tell me more about the work that you did before Lollyphile.

I run another business too, it’s called
Swapsf. Me and my ex-girlfriend run it. It’s a large-scale clothing swap. It’s 500-1000 people at any given moment, and everyone gets drunk and gets a whole shitload of new clothes and it's really fun.

So, real life before this - I did marketing for a number of different industries, PR, and graphic design. And then, I sort of learned how to do what I think is real marketing, which is actually effective marketing rather just sort of lying for the CEO (which is kind of what marketing is, I guess, just lying to people).

I started doing real marketing, which is sort of actually communicating with people and finding out what’s actually up and making them feel like they are doing it with me - which is what
Swapsf does. That’s the marketing I’ve been approaching with this.

When I send out newsletters, I make a point of being 100% straight up. If initially I was like, "Oh, I’ll come up with a new flavor every month," it couldn't work because the reality situation is that if I did that my life would completely collapse due to too much business.

My next flavor comes out in a few weeks. Recently, I sent out an email saying, "Hey, sorry I made everyone wait this long." I had a little sale and it was fun and it’s really cool. Because I’ve been doing it in that direction, I get fan letters - not like "Oh my god, I love you," but kind of like people feel a connection and they really get off on different kinds of candy.

I had this one letter from a lady - she and her husband celebrate every single major event, like their anniversary, engagement, whatever, with absinthe and he is currently overseas in the Army so she mailed him a bunch of lollypops. That was her way of having that moment with him. I thought it was the sweetest thing ever and I was like, "Can I put this on the website?" She said, "Please do." I loved her.

Are you a general foodie?

I’m kind of a food snob. I only buy from farmers’ markets, and for a minute, when I was younger, I was a chef at a pretty fancy restaurant in Seattle. I cook a lot. I make the best matzah ball soup in history.

Do you do make floaters or sinkers?

Floaters. Good question. Way good question! Are you Jewish?

I am. I ask because my husband likes matzah balls that you have to cut with a knife. I’m not a big fan of those.

Yeah, mine are floaters.

Jason said he wanted a Kosher is Binary shirt, so Jonathan designed one for him.
Wait! You’re Jewish and you make lollypops with bacon?

I know. There was a magazine called Jewcy, get it? I noticed on my website stats that there were a lot of hits from there. They were like, "This guy is selling like the least kosher lollypops." Which incidentally, I found out that saying something is the least kosher is kind of a misnomer because kosher is binary. It either is or isn’t. I could essentially make it on Saturday, cover it with blood and serve it with cheese and it wouldn’t be any less kosher than it is now. Kosher is binary. I kind want a T-shirt that says that.

They were like, "You should do a chicken soup version." I was like, "Okay, the meat has to be cured or everyone will die." And then my friend, James, said, "How Jewish would it be if everyone died from lollypops?" So, I made a deal with them that at some point in the future I’m going to make a genuine kosher lollypop and it’ll be like Manischewitz or like hamantaschen with cookie in it. I still have to figure that out.

I think you should make charoset lollypops. Those would be yummy.

Charoset is definitely one that’s been coming up a lot. I just think there’s a lot of moving parts involved with that so it has to be a super short run of like 2000.

Candy Freak Jason recommends the book Candy Freak.
Do you eat a lot of candy?

Not really so much. I’m kind of like a vain health nerd, so I can’t take in the sort of sugar that I used to. For a while, I was finding myself just sort of randomly shoving lollypops in my mouth while I was cooking, and then after a really quick period of time, I got sick of sugar.

I’ve got a thing right now where I’m trying out candy bars. I read Candy Freak. It’s really good and you’d probably like it considering what you do. He was talking about all these small regional candy bars that don’t really get outside like a two state area, like Valomilks and Idaho Spuds and whatever. I kind of get snobby with candy bars and so I’m the guy who shows up at a party with stuff that no one's ever heard of. So, that’s the candy I eat - weird and rare candy bars.

Is the next lollypop flavor top secret information?

No, in a couple weeks, I’m coming out with a Wasabi Ginger.

That sounds really good.

Yeah, it is. I’m just getting the last few kinks out, because I don’t want people saying it actually blows. But it’s really close, like a couple weeks off. Then after that, I’ve got some other stuff. But, I’m keeping that as kind of close to the chest for a minute.

How do you test new flavors?

I make them to where I think they are good. Then, I make a few hundred and I pass them out to friends who have no problem telling me whether they suck and then I go out to big parties and pass it out to strangers and see how they react. If it’s pretty much good across the board, then I’ll sell them.

Aside from the flavors, is there anything that makes your lollypops different than any other lollypops?

It’s a novelty, no one’s ever heard of them. But also, people like buying things that were made by somebody. It kind of has the mystique that they know that I made it. It’s not like it was mass produced by some machines that were watched over by people getting paid minimum wage and kind of hating life. It was made by a guy who was getting off on making them.

If you could interview one person about food, who would it be?

I’ve been reading a lot of Michael Pollan, but I guess that’s too easy, especially because I live in San Francisco. The next one I would say would be Alice Waters, but that’s also pretty easy, because I live in San Francisco. I’m going to go with Alice Waters. She’s pretty awesome.

Why’s that?

She’s kind of, I guess, the godmother of the Slow Food movement. She’s amazing. She helped San Francisco be even snobbier about food than it already is.


KELLY said...

I can only think of one word for this interview: Freakin' awesome. Ok, so that was two words!

Loved it!!

As if I haven't had enough bacon lately, I want one of those lollies!

Cyndi said...

OK, seriously? I want to marry this guy! Maple & Bacon=Heaven on a stick!

Bri said...

I am INTRIGUED!! Sign me up for the drawing!!

Nate-n-Annie said...

Yet another great interview. I would have asked him if he sells his lollipops at farmer's markets.

Tanya said...

This was a great interview! I really enjoyed reading it and Jason sounds like such a fun guy. I'm so intrigued by the absinthe lollipops!

Oh, and that is SO awesome that he ran a speakeasy, complete with a 1920s dress code and selling absinthe.

FranMag said...

What a great character! I'd love to try the lollies. Sign me up!

Allison said...

Wow, those are some amazing lollipop flavors. I would have never thought to make a maple bacon candy... and wasabi ginger? I'll bet my boyfriend would LOVE that.

Fantastic interview!

Amy said...

Wow...these flavors sound so interesting (in a good way!). Sign me up for the giveaway!!!

Vicki said...

I keep meaning to try these. Great interview, and please enter me into the drawing!

Lalaroo said...

Oooh, I want to try those lollypops! This interview was really interesting - I loved learning the real version of how he started Lollyphile! A real speakeasy - sweet!

Lisa said...

Wow maple/bacon, it doesn't get much better then that (except maybe chocolate and bacon)....

jason said...

OMG I had no idea I sounded so ditzy!

Don't sign me up for the drawing, I run the company :)


ps: the clothing event is www.swapsf.com, not fluff.

Temperance said...

how could you not love bacon maple lollies!?

Jackie said...

I think I could go for an Alice Waters flavored lollypop...

patrice said...

Jason seems like an interesting guy. I'm intrigued by the lollipops, I would like to try the maple bacon. Please enter me for the drawing.

Stef said...

Jason - I fixed the name and added a link! Thanks for chiming in.

leigh said...

I can't wait for the next flavor!! Sign me up for the drawing!

Ashley said...

Maple Bacon lollipops?! Ohhhh yeah!

Anonymous said...

I've made brown-sugar/bacon ice cream, now I want to try maple-bacon a lollipop!

Hannah Sivilay said...

This guys insane! Super creative, loved it! And would LOVE to try some of his lollipops!

Deborah, Site Administrator said...

Great interview. Love stories like his. I want to go to a Swapsf.

Bethany said...

Great interview! I made candied bacon ice cream which had a maple base -- it was AMAZING, so I want to try the lollies -- sign me up!!!

Jo said...

Two of my favourites, Maple Bacon and Absinthe. A veggie friend sent it to me, so surprised that someone had similar taste to me! Yeah! I suggest making Bacon and Pepper one's too.

Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

I'm in Italy, but we need Bacon and Absinthe lollypops too! :) Fun to hear about the process.

toontz said...

A fun interview-were you laughing the whole time? I think that is one of my all time favorite start-up business interviews! Mmmm, bacon and sugar-what could be better?! Sign me up!

KBO said...

Mmmm...I want a maple bacon lolly. Salty-sweet is the new black.

Rebecca said...

Interesting, Bacon Lollipops actually sounds good.

jessleigh said...

I would LOVE to try the maple bacom lollipops! Salty-sweet is my favorite flavor combination! I dip fries in milkshakes and eat chips with my birthday cake and ice cream. Yum!

Seeryus Mama said...

How fun!! This was a GREAT interview...I laughed out loud a couple of times and people are looking at me weird...but so worth it!

GothamGal said...

Wonderful Interview....

Absinthe ROCKS!

Karen said...

I already loved Lollyphile (mmmm, bacon), but now that I've read the interview I'm totally hooked. He's hilarious.
ksgerow [at] gmail [dot] com

Mary Avinger said...

I've have chocolate bars with bacon (really tasty) but never a lollipop. I am intrigued and a little nervous all at the same time. Thanks for the giveaway.

PS said...

Ha, before we had kids we used to make absinthe as well because shipping it over from Austria became too hard...I'd love to try it as a lollipop!

cathyhall said...

I'm a Jasonphile - he is fantastic. Great interview, not your normal run of the mill contest. I want the Absinthe ones.

rhubbert@socal.rr.com said...

Really cool, sign me up. What an interesting interview. I liked the 'real ' story behind the lollipops.

sahd said...

Jason, you are not ditzy = you are a too cool, man.


Millie said...

Uhmm.... lol well my son loves bacon I mean.. he can eat a whole package in one sitting.. and he is 3 lol.. so maybe he will go for the pops... if not I am throwing a "Fear Factor" party and they would fit right in there ;)Thanks for the chance to win!

Sandy said...

wow what a different interview- cannot decide whether a pig ona stick or hard liquor is quicker---hmmm but probably bacon

Lisa C. said...

great interview.. very interested..

Kimberly said...

Those are seriously wild lollipop flavors! They sure beat the cliche's grape and cherry. LOL!!! And at least there are no bug larva in them. Ha Ha.

Thanks for a great interview and giveaway.

HunnyV "at" Optonline "dot" net

Naomi said...

Haroset? Better than bitter herbs, I guess.

crystal said...

Great stories Jason!! I am an absinthe fan so the idea of a absinthe lollipop is so awesome!!Love it:)


marcyp06@hotmail.com said...

Absinthe lollypops? Seriously, ABSINTHE FREAKING LOLLYPOPS?

I think I just fell in love.

apple said...

Wow, I'm very curious about these lollies. Count me in!

Buki Family said...

i love trying wierd new things!

jamie said...

I have never tried absinthe but have been wanting to. This sounds like the perfect way to try some!

sarah said...

my first impression to this was "oh gross!!!" but now i am intrigued. hmm...i can't pass this up.

fertawert AT yahoo DOT com

Sarah said...

mmmmmm.....bacon. I'm simultaneously grossed out and dying to try one.

Wehaf said...

This is the best interview I;ve read in months. A busted speakeasy? Leftover cases of absinthe? Kosher is binary? Awesome. Truly awesome.

urchiken at gmail dot com

ironstef said...

what a neat fella! clothes swaps and lollipops for a living? he's my hero for the day! The lollipops sound yummers, too.

Bebemiqui said...

What a great interview! He's definately the kind of crazy dude that would come up with an absinthe lolli!

gkstratos said...

Innovative guy

Mrs. Csirke said...

I musta missed it on daily candy, but i am glad I have found it now! Absinthe. . . how cool!

Christian Kay said...

These would be awesome to hand out for Halloween at work!


ignoramoose said...

Um, AWESOME. I've had bacon dark chocolate (which was amazing) so I think I should probably try these lollipops!

quitecontrary1977 said...

i must be weird.. this interview made me have a crush on jason.

windycindy said...

Hello! I certainly learned a lot reading this interview. Not only about the maker of the product, but the product itself! My husband and sons would really enjoy these lollipops very much. Please enter my name in your delightful drawing. Many thanks, Cindi

Anonymous said...

i tasted this guys lolly pop a few times...