Video: “Ugh, saltwater taffy is kind of gross.” That’s what Marisa Wu thought years ago, when a colleague suggested she make some of her own. But then she investigated and figured out how to cook taffy flavoured by real ingredients, not lab-created chemicals. Now Wu runs Salty Road Taffy, a popular high-end taffy brand where the banana flavour tastes like (and is made with) real bananas, where each recipe is carefully calibrated and made on antique equipment.
Wu gave us a video tour of the taffy factory, and talked about juggling production, marketing, and other aspects of her small business from a desk on the factory floor.
Wu and her team make taffy in flavours such as mango, strawberries and cream, and honey peanut, all with real-food ingredients, all with crunchy grains of salt that add texture and bring out the flavour.
They produce small batches using vintage equipment — because there are no new machines for small sweet businesses such as hers, now that companies such as Nestlé and Mars run the lolly manufacturing game with massive factories and industrial machines.
That means when a machine breaks down, Wu and her team have to find a mechanic who can figure it out. Over the years she’s worked with fellow artisans and even an elevator mechanic to manage the factory’s most complex machine, which slices off pieces of taffy and wraps them in paper.
Something like a stopped machine or a few absent employees can threaten to slow down production, which keeps Wu on her toes and filling in where she’s needed, on top of running the business, dealing with distributors and direct online sales (Salty Road has no storefront of its own). So she still uses every skill she learned along the way of scaling up her business.
Watch the video above to see Salty Road’s machinery, and how they pack every part of the process into a two-room rental in New York’s Brooklyn Army Terminal. You’ll also learn what happens when you have to taste-test lollies every day.