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'Candy Queen' enjoys the sweet life

March 04, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
  • Jackie Sorkin founded the event-planning business the Hollywood Candy Girls in 2009.
Jackie Sorkin founded the event-planning business the Hollywood Candy… (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Jackie Sorkin, the self-appointed "Candy Queen," founded the event-planning business the Hollywood Candy Girls in 2009. Working alongside a cadre of young women (and one Eye Candy Boy), she's designed hundreds of sweets-centric parties for the likes of Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and the only celebrity to ever leave her starstruck, Oprah Winfrey. Although Sorkin is tight-lipped about numbers, she said her profit has grown each year. "People think this is all magic," said Sorkin, 32. "They forget that it's a business and you have to work really, really hard."

Starting young: Sorkin wrote her first business plan when she was age 7, intending to launch a restaurant that prepared chicken 101 ways. She could, however, come up with only 21 recipes. At 14, she lied about her age in order to get a work permit. She dropped out of college at 19 and with $400 moved to New York, where she held a series of jobs for nearly a decade. "I hated conformity, just hated it," she said. "I don't like to be told what to do. I hate rules."

Biggest disappointment: It hasn't all been gumdrops and cotton candy. Sorkin once attempted to launch a retail fashion business but ended up with busted credit and thousands of dollars in unsold inventory in her garage. Her engineer husband, Chris, was laid off twice. Later, once she achieved some success, competitors tried to copy her event-planning ideas. "I've had everything taken from me," she said. So she toughened up and became fiercely protective of her business and employees, earning her the nickname, "the spastic Chihuahua."

Her big break: While working at an entertainment events company, Sorkin realized that although clients went crazy for candy, few party planning businesses focused on sweets. So she broke away from her employer, taking two co-workers with her, and launched the Hollywood Candy Girls just as the economy tanked. But even as customers began spending more conservatively, they were still allowing themselves small luxuries. "It was my moment to slip in there," Sorkin said. "Americans were experiencing their biggest nightmare, so I was going to make their sweetest dreams come true."

All about the girls: Sorkin is unabashedly girlie. Her Willy Wonka-esque warehouse has the ambience of a sorority house: One purple wall in her office is festooned with a giant pink lollipop. A bottle of glitter nail polish sits on her desk. She was once a director at an all-girls summer camp and launched a company that mixed hip-hop classes with motivational speaking for young women, sometimes drawing 500 girls to a single session. Now, roughly 95% of her clients are women. "I'm a little corny — I'm all about girl power," Sorkin said.

A social woman: "I use social media — it's my thing," Sorkin said. "Twitter, Facebook, blogging — it's everything now." She said she is constantly reinventing her brand and investing large sums into the company's image, splurging on expensive cameras and top Google placement. Sorkin attributes 40% of her success to her blog.

Small-screen star: Among the blog's many fans: television production companies, including one that recruited Sorkin for a reality show chronicling her work. She was pregnant while being filmed making Sweet 16 dresses and model city blocks entirely out of candy. The six episodes of "Candy Queen" aired on TLC this winter.

Personal life: Sorkin and her husband have two children: 21-month-old Isabella (nicknamed the Heiress to the Empire) and 10-week-old Christian George (dubbed Lord Lollipop). They live in a Los Alamitos condominium a minute from either Sorkin's shop or her parents' home.

What's next: Hollywood Candy Girls retail shops, where customers will be able to create their own sweet mixes, are in the works, Sorkin said. She also might franchise her event-planning business, and has already received queries about that not only from within the U.S. but also from England, France and Australia.

Be real: Sorkin's advice for entrepreneurs: Connect with clients by staying open and relatable, and say what's on your mind. "I'm coming into people's most special moments — their weddings, their birthdays," she said. "I don't have a filter, and I'm not guarded at all. When you can be that raw with people, they want to keep giving you their business."

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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