Living the Sweet Life

Dylan Lauren, the Founder, and CEO of Dylan’s Candy Bar, and her rescue dog Jersey.

Dylan Lauren, the Founder, and CEO of Dylan’s Candy Bar, was having a busy day as she sat down for a phone interview with Westchester Family this winter. The mom of 4-year-old twins, Cooper Blue and Kingsley Rainbow, is preparing to open a new store in Honolulu. She also had a book signing event coming up at the Bedford Playhouse and is working on revamping her e-commerce website.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin but Lauren’s enthusiasm and energy for all things candy is palpable over the phone. As the youngest of fashion royalty Ralph Lauren and his wife Ricky Ann Low-Beer’s three children, (she credits her mom by the way for her sweet tooth), Lauren fell in love with candy at a young age and vividly recalls watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory repeatedly throughout her childhood. It wasn’t just the taste of candy that Lauren loved but also the beauty of it — the packaging, the delicate crystals of rock candy, and the swirly colors of giant lollipops.

Lauren’s background in art history is evident when you walk into her colorful candy emporiums at any of her New York area locations whether it’s her flagship store on Third Avenue or her hip hop-influenced outpost with light-up candy columns on Union Square West. She also scouts out other trendy locations to expand her brand, which includes a Hudson Yards shop, her mini candy bar store in East Hampton and even a store north of Westchester County at Woodbury Commons.

We chatted about the inspiration for her coffee table book, Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life, and Dylan’s Candy BarN her foundation to help rescue animals, plus the perpetual balancing act of forging ahead with a successful career while carving out family time.

Q. Tell us about your book, Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life. Why did you create it?
I love candy but not just the flavor of it. I love the aesthetics of it — the bright colors, the shapes, sizes, and textures too. I wanted people to experience candy in a different way and celebrate it.

Q. Did you know you always wanted to work in the candy business?
I knew I wanted to do something creative and run my own biz. I always made handmade gifts using candy — so originally I thought maybe I’ll sell my candy art.

Q. You opened your first store in 2001 right after 9/11 and now are opening up your 26th location. What have you learned in almost 20 years of business?
I need a team who loves, lives, and breathes candy. I need people who will stay true to the brand.
The stores I’ve seen that are succeeding in retail offer more than just the opportunity to shop for a product. That’s why I am so big on the concept of “retail-tainment” and we offer a lot of special events at our stores.

Q. How do you decide what candies to sell in your store?
There are all these candy trade shows that I go to. We are looking for things that are unusual like edible roses for Valentine’s Day or a two-foot chocolate bunny for Easter — an aesthetic that is beautiful, creative, and not run of the mill.

Q. Why did you start your animal rescue foundation, Dylan’s Candy BarN?
We have a rescue dog named Jersey who originally comes from Puerto Rico. We got her when she was four months old from an area there called Dead Dog Beach and I learned that in certain parts of the world, animals are treated really horribly.
We had such a great experience adopting her but there is still a stigma around rescue animals. Some people think they are badly behaved. It’s not true.
There are so many animals that need homes so we host adoption events, where customers can interact with shelter animals and have a positive experience. We’ve had a lot of these events at our stores in New York, Chicago, and Miami and we made a lot of matches where the animals now have a place to call “home-sweet-home”.

Q. Do you sell pet candy?
Yes, we have both animal-themed candies for humans and candy-themed products (both edible and non-edible) for pets. A percentage of proceeds go to Dylan’s Candy BarN.

Q. How do you balance raising Cooper and Kingsley who you call your “Twinkies” with your career?
It is hard and my work is my baby too. When I am at work, I try to focus on that but when I am home with them, I concentrate on them. The good thing is that they know I work in a candy store and they like that. We hold a lot of birthday parties in our stores for their friends, which they get to go to so I can be with them at work.

Q. Do they eat a lot of candy?
They are really healthy eaters and like their vegetables. I think everything in moderation is fine. I also teach them that candy can be enjoyed in other ways besides eating it. So, we do a lot of art projects using candy as the medium. A lot of those crafting ideas are on our website. I also have given them candy-themed items that we carry in our stores like robes and pillows.

Q. What do you like to do to together as a family?
We live in the city but come up to Bedford [where Lauren’s parents live] on the weekends. I love being out in nature here whether going on a run or walking with the kids and our dog Jersey. We also have rescue horses up here so we like to go visit them and feed them carrots and apples. We love Muscoot Farm too, where we go to see all the animals, and we love going to Rockin’ Jump.

Q. What are your favorite candies?
My candy favorites are red and gummy. I love Swedish Fish. I like cherry and bubble gum flavors more than chocolate actually.

Q. So is that how you stay so svelte working in the candy business?
I run a lot and just did a strength training session this morning. I work out most days.

Q. Tell us some of your childhood memories about candy and how that inspired your business?
I remember when my older brothers went to sleepaway camp and being so envious of them. We strolled the supermarket aisles and bought them giant bags of Tootsie Rolls and I wanted that too. Camp is such a special place and when I got to go to camp I still remember my days at the candy canteen.
Soon we will be holding camp-themed events in our stores where customers can choose personalized candy baskets, get candy-themed apparel like goggles and towels plus play camp fireside games and eat s’mores. We also offer personal shoppers who can help with Visiting Day purchases, especially if your child has any nut allergies or other special dietary considerations.

Q. The news is depressing lately. Do you think we need candy now more than ever?
I think we always need candy. It is synonymous with good times — like baby showers and weddings but also sad times like the Jewish ritual of shiva when someone passes away.

Q. Would you ever open a store in Westchester?
I’m not sure. I have thought about opening a store in Greenwich. No matter what, we need stores to be in an area with a lot of walk-in traffic.

Stacey Pfeffer is a writer/editor living in Northern Westchester with her three kids and rescue dog plus a menagerie of ducks, deer, and chipmunks in her backyard. When she isn’t meeting deadlines, she can be found running with her dog or trying to concoct an edible meal for her family.