Jackie Sorkin is Candy Queen of her Candy Kingdom in Miami’s Aventura Mall, where her immersive sugar experience Miami Sweet popped up last week. It’s 20,000 square feet of sweet sensory overload. What started out as a $25 website 14 years ago in her Los Alamitos garage at an advanced stage of pregnancy has grown into a million-dollar business based on a candy obsession that started at age six which she never grew out of.
And that’s just the tip of the ice candy. She and her business partner Jay Yadon dream of creating a giant candy theme park like Dollywood. They’ve already started on a new project in Nashville that will include a 30,000 square foot Candy Wonderland activation – an immersive experience with activities for kids which will eventually make its way westward back to Sorkin’s Hollywood roots.
A little shop in Orange County is where she shot her first show on the Learning Channel. Famous for her creative candy creations, she’s been on Sugar Rush, Sugar High, Unique Sweets, Cake Wars and the judge on a Halloween episode of Chopped Junior. Her celebrity devotees include the Kardashians, Steve Harvey, Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber and the only other woman who can claim the candy queen title, Katy Perry.
But it was a tough climb that wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns.
“Being an entrepreneur is tough, there are so many ups and downs,” Sorkin tells us from inside the Pineapple Room at Miami Sweet. “You win big, you lose big. I had to walk away from things and start a new chapter in my life. I wanted to quit so many times because I thought I was going to die.”
The death of her father from cancer was a turning point.
“I ate so much candy at one point I ended up being 300 pounds,” says Sorkin, whose immigrant parents met on a bus to Hollywood. “It was my way of coping when I was younger. I was the weird kid. I lost about 150 pounds in the last six years after my father died and I watched him struggle with cancer. I realized then I had to change my habits, get some help and be very honest with myself. I got some therapy, got the food under control and lost the weight. It was my time. But even when I’m sad there is this positive energy inside me and even when I feel like giving up over and over again, the work inspires me.”
That inspiration, combined with Sorkin’s nuclear energy, only heats up even more during the Halloween season, the holiday where she sells the largest amount of candy behind Valentine’s Day. To make it fun at home, the mother of two suggests keeping it interactive and you don’t have to be Katy Perry to afford it:
“For a good Halloween, I always like to do something interactive, playful and fun,” she says with enough energy to light up all of South Beach. “Our world has shifted now that everything we do is a moment we try to capture. The new way we live and do business is immersive. Whether you love social media or you don’t, and more people do than not, we are living in the moment and documenting those interactions.
“For Halloween, I would say, ‘hey kids and adults, let’s do ring pop bling rings.’ It’s so simple. Take ring pops, get a bunch of cool sticky things from Michael’s craft store and make this fabulous accessory that’s great to photograph – you living your best life. It’s a cool and cheap way to elevate a simple piece of candy. Creating the ultimate candy apple is also fun. I make everything into stations.
Take a caramel/candied/chocolate apple and set up an entire station with toppings and gummy bears and sprinkles and yummy things and everyone can create their own custom apple. Candy jewelry and candy crowns with cellophane and ribbons and candy leis. We also do candy kabobs, which is one of the first things I ever made and I still sell them to this day for $3.95 apiece. It’s a small candy art kabob with sour belts and gummy rings. Do your own candy kabob station. We do candy sushi making with crispy rice treats topped with Swedish fish. Fruit roll-ups for the exterior, nerds, gummy bears and skittles for the details. We do Swedish fish as sashimi and it looks so unbelievably real. Anyone can do that – even with leftover Halloween candy! You can do that for less than $25.”
Art exhibits made out of candy and installations with a Coachella vibe at Miami Sweet include a collection of twelve vibrant rooms, each providing its own unique experience. The pineapple room is filled with thousands of pineapples you can lay in, jump on as well as light-rimmed and mirrored tunnels. The art deco gallery is inspired by South Beach, with a giant Versace logo and candy art pieces featuring Pitbull and Frieda Kahlo, with a playlist curated by Sorkin. There’s a wise-cracking tucan that interacts with the guests and the vibe of every room is different. According to Sorkin, the kids love it, the teenagers who always look pissed off love it and the grandparents love it.
“The carnival room is complete party vomit,” says the candy queen. “Confetti, samba dancers, glitter balls, big DJ booths, golden pineapples. There’s a giant ice cream sandwich swing in there. I’m running with ‘happiness is back,’ people. It’s ok to be happy again. People are different. We’re all timid and watching how we interact with each other. We have a butterfly tunnel that represents transformation, which is what we are going through now. We’re all little butterflies in our cocoons ready to emerge and fly again. Let’s create and make something and be happy. I think it’s so important for us to get out of the darkness. We’re trying to counter almost two years of this garbage that has been devastating to us all. Life is short, make it sweet and fun.”
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