With Valentine's Day just three days away, candy store owners are dreaming of sweet success ... including the celebrity confectioner our Alina Cho has dropped in on:
She eats at least one piece of candy every day ("That's an understatement"). It's all part of the job for Dylan Lauren, founder and CEO of Dylan's Candy Bar. Her New York flagship -- three floors and 15,000 square feet -- is said to be the largest candy store in the world, with the largest selection.
"Seven thousand candies, but we rotate them. So we rotate every holiday, every special occasion," she said.
It's one of New York's most popular tourist destinations, such as the "nostalgia area." "Yes, people love seeing what they grew up with."
Lauren says the store attracts more than two million visitors a year.
Downstairs, there's a whole wall of celebrity favorites.
"Oprah, when she came, I mean, the whole store was buzzing about that for weeks," Lauren said.
Madonna? "She loves Red Hots."
Bill Clinton? "He likes Pay Day!"
This all began at her sixth birthday party, when her parents played the classic movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" for Dylan and her friends. "I love that movie. And I've probably watched it a hundred times since," Lauren said. "The idea of wanting to live in this magical candy land is something I wanted to bring to life."
But how to do it required some help -- and who better to turn to than her father, fashion legend Ralph Lauren?
Cho asked, "At what point did you realize what your father did?"
"I never really thought about them being, you know, world-famous," Lauren replied. "A lot of people come up to me still -- 'So, I have this shirt with a stain on it. Can I get another one?'"
And speaking of shirts…
"As a kid, seriously, I think seeing my dad have these jars of fabric and swatches to design his shirts, I wanted to eat the fabric because I thought it looked like candy -- it was so beautiful," she said.
Cho asked, "What did your father teach you in terms of how to approach business?"
"What I love is that my dad has very much stuck to his gut and stuck to his guns. And I believe that it's really important to follow your gut, and also to not be a follower.
"My dad is a trendsetter. I see competitors popping up, but he's always been, like, 'Don't look at them. You know, it's, like, if you watch them, it's gonna slow you down. Like, go your path. But don't be threatened by it.'"
Good advice. Dylan's Candy Bar just celebrated its Sweet 16th birthday, with 16 locations nationwide, and plans to open soon in Dubai and Japan.
Dylan Lauren is more than just the face of the brand; she's a working executive who pays attention to the tiniest of details. At one staff meeting, the subject was marketing a new line of healthier candies.
"'Cause everything else is so colorful, I want people to understand it's vegan, it's gluten-free, nut-free, allergen-free. "
Her high-end candy empire includes not just sweets, but collaborations with companies that make clothing, bedding, and baby strollers. She even makes candy for "Saturday Night Live."
Cho said, "I think there will be some people who will watch this and say, 'Dylan Lauren, daughter of Ralph Lauren, why didn't she just work for her dad -- or frankly, why work at all?' You didn't have to do any of this."
"Yeah, sometimes I think that," Lauren laughed. "When it's stressful and I'm traveling and I go from one country to the next and, you know, I just wanna, like, sit and relax. But I've always been driven."
Lauren has her own family now. Married to financier Paul Arrouet, the couple has young twins, appropriately named Cooper Blue and Kingsley Rainbow.
She recently won the candy equivalent of an Oscar; she's been on dozens of magazine covers; but she says it's the Dylan Lauren Barbie doll she's most proud of. "I actually wish I looked exactly like her!" she laughed.
Dylan Lauren says she has big plans for her business, guided by her father and inspired by the vision of Walt Disney.
Cho asked, "Could there be a candy hotel?"
"You are onto something," she laughed. "Like Disney, I hope to open a candy theme park, maybe a candy hotel. So trust me, you're not far!"
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