For years, New Orleans’ most familiar cotton candy offering has been a spongy pink and blue version resembling fiberglass insulation, sold from carts along parade routes. In 2016, local entrepreneur Jeanne O’Leary created Poof Cotton Candy (504-417-8198; www.poofcottoncandy.com), a line of spun sugar in a range of flavors and toppings. In May, her company won the 2019 JEDCO Start Up Challenge, a startup pitch competition sponsored by the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission.
G: How did you come up with the idea to make specialty cotton candy?
O’Leary: I was working a couple of jobs: bartending, shadowing a personal trainer. My family has been in food production for a while, so it’s in the blood. I started brainstorming with my mom and said, “I need a food product. It can’t be perishable. I don’t want to have to buy a fridge or a freezer.” She laughed at me and said, “Honey, you’re left with sugar.” It dawned on me: cotton candy. Then it morphed into gourmet cotton candy and making our own flavors and sprinkles.
We came up with Poof as the name because it was an idea out of thin air. It also works perfectly that cotton candy is poofy. I drew up a logo that night and printed out some crappy little flyers. I stalked bridal stores on Magazine Street and Metairie Road and got a retainer the next day. I didn’t have a machine or sugar. I had never made cotton candy or worked in concessions. I just had an idea. I took that retainer and bought my first cotton candy machine.
G: What types of flavors do you offer?
O: Our flavors are pretty set; the market has spoken. We used to do a lot of crazy flavors, plays on snowballs, but after the first year-and-a-half, we got rid of the flavors that weren’t selling. We run with our main eight flavors and do a seasonal flavor as well.
Our top three flavors are Unicorn, which is white cake cotton candy with edible glitters and Fruity Pebbles. Then king cake flavor, which we offer year-round. It’s purple king cake cotton candy with mini marshmallows that act as icing, Mardi Gras sprinkles and a dusting of cinnamon. Third is cookies and cream.
We do cool flavors for Meril — they use my mixed sugar for their celebratory cotton candy — like root beer, strawberry lemonade and citrus punch. Our most unique flavor is the Chicago mix: caramel cotton candy with crushed Cheetos.
I have a black and gold Saints flavor for special order: pina colada with black sprinkles. There’s peppermint crunch around Christmas: peppermint cotton candy with crushed chocolate-covered pretzels and crushed peppermints. And we do pumpkin spice.
G: How perishable is cotton candy?
O: With heat and humidity, packaged cotton candy for retail (wholesaling and putting tubs of cotton candy on store shelves) is totally seasonal. We are about to launch and get back on shelves, hopefully by Oct. 1, then the season ends right around Easter. Tubs run between $4 and $6, and bags, which are about half the quantity of tubs, are $2.50 each. We will put a full list of store locations on our website and social media platforms.
All our sprinkled stuff is packaged. Only the straightforward flavors get spun on a cone because sprinkles will ruin the machine. For catering, we bring the machine on our cute little cart and whip up cotton candy for everyone to watch. — REBECCA FRIEDMAN