Work, family, a social life — really, we’re all just trying to find a way to balance it all. And if you’re an aspiring #girlboss, finding time to chase your dreams and turn them into a reality can be a stressful gig. But for Portland’s QUIN candy shop founder and sugar extraordinaire, Jami Curl, finding a way to make it happen was a matter of harnessing the power of creativity and passion and combining it with hard work to watch the pieces fall into place. Jami was dubbed “the new Willy Wonka” by Bon Appetit, and we sat down with her to talk Portland, motherhood and, most importantly, candy… all of the candy.
B+C: Let’s just get this out of the way. You have one of the most SHE’S SO LUCKY jobs out there. Why candy and how did you make this dream job a reality?
JC: Let’s start with how I made it a reality: a ton of hard work and zero fear of failure. I am a really hard worker and find it very easy to give up personal time in order to work. I am not a picture perfect model of balance, and I am not the type to talk about my “self-care” or “me” time or any of that. That said, the job I have is no ordinary job — I don’t have that struggle because my job IS my passion project. Essentially I get to do what I love AND it’s my job — I am so fortunate to have it be this way.
That said, it didn’t happen by luck. And it didn’t happen at lightning speed. I fell in love with candy while I owned, operated and worked at my busy bakery. One day instead of working on a new cookie, cake, scone or some other baked good, I decided to make candy. I applied all the same style and technique I brought to my baked goods — and the result was a caramel that tasted so different than normal candy. After caramels, I tackled lollipops and the rest just sort of fell into place. I made candy and grew the candy business while still running and working at my bakery. I did this for many months — building up QUIN so it could take off — and when the moment was right, I sold the bakery and put everything I had into QUIN.
B+C: Your all-American sweets are made with some of the best ingredients out there. Talk to us a little bit about the importance of using high-quality goods to make your product.
JC: Candy can be made very easily with cheap ingredients. There are all sorts of fake additives and ingredients on the market that make candy easier to produce — fake milk products that emulsify with fake sweeteners, stabilizers and shelf-life extenders, phony flavors and cheap artificial colorings. Reading these sentences — it’s all just so gross to me! We make candy with fresh cream, real butter, pure cane sugar, fruit, nuts, chocolate, color derived from beets and turmeric, flavors that come from REAL food. As a baker, I used fresh, real ingredients, and it would never ever cross my mind to make candy any other way.
B+C: Portland is a foodie paradise. What’s it like to be a local business in the city?
JC: I am very focused on building a business that isn’t just for Portland. I appreciate and am very thankful for the bounty of incredible ingredients right outside our doors, and I would never take for granted the fact that many people in Portland seek out and spend good money on quality food, treats and drinks — Portlanders were our first customers and they are who helped QUIN get her start. I am thankful for the farmers who grow beautiful fruit that we put in our candy; I am thankful for Portlanders who like to buy candy made with real ingredients, but I am even more thankful that we are able to put our candy in boxes and ship those boxes across the world.
B+C: It’s obvious you love what you do. Can you share how you keep that passion alive and continue to stay creative?
JC: My job is so varied that I rarely have time to get bored. I am part candy maker-upper, part marketer, part boss, part writer, part negotiator, part strategic thinker. There are small and large parts of all of these roles that I love so, so much. And because I am always doing something different, I rarely feel stalled or stagnant or without ideas. It’s really the opposite — I never, ever find enough time to tackle all the crazy stuff I dream up.
B+C: So, you’ve got a cookbook coming out in March 2017. What can we expect there?
JC: I DO! It’s so exciting. It’s called Candy is Magic — Real Ingredients, Modern Recipes, and it is full of every single one of QUIN’s greatest hits. In addition to candy, I cover ice cream and cake, and I include tons of ideas for how to use candy in other recipes. It’s a total adventure and a perfect distillation of how my mind works. I love to do more than one thing with an ingredient — for example, there’s a recipe for something I called Chocolate Magic Dust in the book — that magic dust can be used to make chocolate caramels, chocolate lollipops, chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk, hot fudge AND chocolate marshmallows. It’s like a big huge giant sweet game of connect the dots; I really can’t say enough about how fun it is.
Writing the book was an incredible experience — I wrote it myself, did all the creative direction. I have had my hand in every part of the creation of the book from art direction to writing. It is perfectly me.
B+C: In addition to owning your own business, writing a cookbook and just being an overall busy badass, you’re a mom too. Can you share some tips on how you manage your day *and* your sanity?
JC: I must say that I have a very, very good kid. He’s a great listener and he’s very supportive — we’ve never struggled to see eye to eye on things — he’s a total gem of a human. He’s a busy guy — he’s been taking ballet since the age of three, he’s in a choir and takes various voice lessons and acting classes — and all of these things come from him. He has the same kind of drive that I have; it doesn’t come from external pressures, he seems to be internally driven to do the things he loves to do. Because of this, the day to day is really pretty easy (I don’t have to force him to practice and I’m never dragging a crying kid to a commitment).
Of course, there are moments when I think I’m going to go completely insane — when I’ve got a work commitment and then something pops up on Theo’s schedule, or I can’t stay at work as long as I’d like because I have to get Theo at school. Or I’ve worked a long day and then I spend 60 minutes in traffic trying to get Theo to dance class and we end up being late anyway. For the most part, I follow a very detailed schedule and system, but when either of those things gets interrupted, I can turn into a very unhappy/cranky/upset person. So I do what I can to stay on schedule and try to sneak in some work after Theo’s bedtime (and before he gets up) each day. But, for real, scheduling to the minute is KEY.
B+C: I feel like I’m about to ask you to pick your favorite child but what’s the one can’t-go-on-living-without piece of candy at QUIN?
JC: I love Dreams Come Chew. They are fruity, chewy candies in flavors like cherry, strawberry, lemon, tangerine, fruit punch and pineapple-coconut. I love them because they are super fresh tasting, super smooth and have just the right amount of tartness. (Fruit Punch is my favorite flavor of the bunch!)
B+C: Finally, there are a ton of aspiring artisanal #girlbosses out there. What advice do you have for them?
JC: The first thing is that I think it’s totally okay to just be a boss and not a girlboss. While I understand the boss lady/girlboss movement, I think it’s great to embrace and recognize that one can be a boss AND a woman and not have to qualify her achievements with the girlboss hashtag. I like to just be the boss, full stop.
The other thing I like to tell women (or anyone who has a dream they are trying to make work) is that the only person who’s going to care as much about what you’re doing as you do is YOU. You have to care for your dream, project, business, idea better than anyone else. No one (not even your mom!) is going to love your vision like you do. Embrace that singularity (even if it might sound lonely) and live it every single day. It’s not that you’re the only person who cares, but at the same time it is exactly that: YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CARES AS MUCH AS YOU DO. You can’t expect anyone else to care for your dream the way you care for your dream.
And once your big dream is off the ground and things are going great and you are on cloud nine every day because things are working, you still have to love it all and care for it all better than anyone else. You can’t ask an employee to do that for you (and you really shouldn’t want to!).
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(Photos via QUIN)