If you've never heard of local candy maker David Klein, it's likely because the inventor of the Jelly Belly sold the rights to the
formula trademark* a few unfortunate years too soon — perhaps not surprising for a guy who signs emails with dangling consonants (“thankssssssssssss”), talks like he is on a constant sugar high, and recently produced a quirky documentary of his jelly bean life story with Weird Al Yankovic as a guest star (“Ohhh, Weird Al loves Jelly Bellys,” Klein says). Business acumen aside, Klein is a great, down-to-earth guy who truly loves candy, quirky wasabi flavors and all.
For over thirty years, Klein has also been on a personal candy mission with the corporate sorts over at Jelly Belly, whom he says never gave him public credit as the inventor of those infamous game-changing jelly beans until recently. Klein also recently got back into the jelly bean business himself with the launch of namesake candies in flavors like ginger, wasabi, and root beer (still his favorite flavor). Get our interview with Klein, and more on his new jelly beans, after the jump.
* Squid Ink Note (7/9/12): Jelly Belly representative Tomi Holt emailed this clarification: “Klein never owned the formulas and was not involved in the candymaking processes. Klein was a participant in a transaction to sell the trademark name and logo which we purchased.” Klein's response to the trademark issue: “Yes, the idea was mine to make the product but the formula used was developed by them… I had been buying the product from them (they were my contract manufacturer).”
Squid Ink: Big news. You're making jelly beans again?!
David Klein: Yes, can you believe it? But listen to this first, you won't believe it. After 34 years of Jelly Belly denying who I was, we finally convinced them to put my name on their website instead of just saying they were developed by “a candy distributor who lives near Hollywood.”
SI: Wow. That took a long time.
DK: Are you online right now ? Really, go check! It says David Klein. [Squid Ink Note: The credit is buried about halfway down on the Jelly Belly history page.]
SI: How did that happen?
DK: You know, Ellia [Kosoff, of Leaf candy] just called Herm [Rowland], the owner of Jelly Belly. They talked and he finally agreed to change it after all these years. I couldn't believe it.
SI: Your lucky phone call after all these years. What about your new jelly beans?
DK: Oh, yes. Well, about year ago I got back into the jelly bean business. It's so exciting to be back. Really. Just great. I had a 20 year non-compete clause with Jelly Belly, which had expired a long time ago, but it's expensive to get into the jelly bean business.
SI: Not something you can do at your current candy factory?
DK: No, we don't make the beans ourselves, we worked with someone. Basically what you have to do is find someone who has the [jelly bean] equipment, you're looking at a million dollars if you build it yourself. At our factory we stick to things like the Sandy Candy that I make with my daughter.
SI: Why get back into jelly beans?
DK: Well, Ellia is the man who is responsible for getting me back in the jelly bean business. I'd been helping him with Astro Pops, developing them for the market again. Do you know them? Astro Pops are those candies that are sort of pointy on the end. Ellia asked me what I wanted for helping him, and I said, “Nothing, I just like to help people.”
SI: And you like candy.
DK: Yes. Ellia said, “How come you're not in the jelly bean business anymore?” I told him it took a lot more money that I had. Do you know Leaf candy? They were the Whoppers guys. That's his family. They sold to Hershey's, then Hershey's dropped the name Leaf. Ellias wanted to revive the Leaf candy name, that's how we got together.
SI: He funded the new jelly bean venture.
DK: Yes. His mom, Helen, she is a gourmet cook — really gourmet — who was born in India so she likes all of these great flavors. Helen came up with the jelly bean flavors. She is one of the nicest people you ever want to talk to in your life, really. We have jelly bean flavors like ginger, chipotle chile, wasabi, and Himalayan salt. The idea is you can create a whole dish from a few beans.
SI: Jelly beans for dinner. And breakfast, with that bacon flavor. What is the new line called?
DK: David's Signature Beyond Gourmet Beans. They're named after me! Finally.
SI: You learned your lesson the first time around.
DK: [Laughs]. Our slogan is they are “beyond gourmet.” Better than gourmet. We are having so much fun.
SI: So what's your favorite flavor these days? [The original eight flavors of Jelly Bellys introduced in 1976 were Very Cherry, Root Beer, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Lemon, Licorice and Grape.]
DK: Our root beer bean. But it's very close between root beer and ginger. Our ginger bean is pretty great. The beauty about our beans is you only have to eat one to get the full flavor. [Squid Ink Tasting Note: The root beer and ginger are pretty fantastic.]
SI: Well that's good for our waistlines, if not exactly ideal for sales.
DK: [Laughs]. Right. They're only 4 or 5 calories. See, these are also all natural. 100% naturally flavored; That's not your usual jelly bean. It also means they're expensive. Twice as much as most jelly beans with artificial ingredients.
SI: All natural is almost always expensive these days, it seems.
DK: Exactly. They sell for double the price of Jelly Bellys. It's just how it has to be.
SI: How are they doing?
DK: It's been great to see. People seem to really love them. The store that's doing the best job is in Monrovia, The Candy Connection. She kicked out Jelly Bellys because she thought mine were so good. She had one sale for $130 worth of my jelly beans. Can you believe that? It's just so much fun.
SI: Look out, Jelly Belly.
David's Signature jelly beans are available at Candy Connection in Monrovia.
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