by Valerie Rojas
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
While sitting over the dinner table on a typical weekday evening, most families discuss the day’s events, weekend plans or school troubles. Things were always a little bit different at the Klein house. For this family, whenever everyone is gathered around the dining room table, it is time to get down to business and discuss the sweet things of life, namely candy.
As a child, Glendora native and University of La Verne alumna Roxanne Klein, now 26, was always pestered by her father to come up with new and interesting candy ideas. Klein never resisted. The sweet stuff is in her genes. Her father David Klein invented Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, the favored jelly bean of many candy-craving enthusiasts, including former United States President Ronald Reagan. “We don’t talk about anything else,” Roxanne says about her family. “Every three minutes, someone brings up something involving candy.”
It seems like every child’s dream: growing up with the man who invented one of the most beloved bite sized candies of all time. But, as Roxanne says, life was not that out of the ordinary for her and her older brother Bert Klein, an animator who has worked on the “Lord of the Rings” movies and the hit television show “The Simpsons.”
“A lot of people would think that I’d have a lot of cavities,” Roxanne jokes. Some of her favorite candies include DOTS, Charleston Chews and Tangerine flavored Jelly Bellies.
Aside from the constant tasty treat talk, Roxanne says she had an average childhood. She was a focused ice skater at age 13, and, as long as the children did their homework, they were treated to “Hookie days”—an occasional trip to Disneyland instead of school, courtesy of her kindhearted mother Rebecca Klein. “She is very understanding,” Roxanne says of her mom who would occasionally make gift boxes for teachers and friends of her children, something she continues to do today.
Growing up, Roxanne noticed that many of her friends’ parents were much more restrictive in allowing their children to indulge in the sweet stuff than her parents were. Roxanne noticed this created an interesting side effect. “They were more crazy for candy than I ever was,” Roxanne jokes.
Roxanne and her family were focused on the creation side of candy, not so much the aftermath. The creative entrepreneur gene was definitely passed down to young Roxanne. At 3, after playing with her brother’s toy train, she dreamt up her first candy concept: “Choo-choo Chugs,” an edible toy train that can be easily assembled and then consumed. Although the idea never panned out, Roxanne still has hope for her first sweet sketch. “I still think it’s a really good idea,” Roxanne says as a reminiscent smile spreads across her face.
Roxanne continued to let her confection creativity flow, and she soon followed in her father’s footsteps. At 17, while still in high school, Roxanne invented Sandy Candy, a delicious tangy combination of art and candy. The idea behind Sandy Candy came to life when Roxanne was inspecting one of her favorite pastimes and decided that it needed something more. “I love doing sand art,” Roxanne says. “The sand reminds me of Pixy Stix.” After thinking about the idea of edible sand art, Roxanne scribbled her idea on a paper plate in order to avoid misplacing it, a tip her father gave her long ago.
“They are easier to handle than a scrap of paper,” Roxanne says about paper plates. She happens to keep a stack of them in her kitchen in case lightning strikes again.
Roxanne began to sketch out plans for her sugar-coated concoction, and, after keeping her idea a secret for nearly six months, she decided it was time to call her experienced family to action. Her parents loved the idea, and Sandy Candy had its start, although it began slowly.
After graduating from Glendora High School, Roxanne read about the University of La Verne in a brochure and decided it was the school for her. It was not La Verne’s average small town appeal that sparked her desire to attend; instead it was a particular class that made the decision an easy one. “They had a hologram making class, and I thought, ‘I have to go to this school,’” Roxanne remembers.
During her first meeting with the course instructor, Roxanne’s hologram making dreams were crushed; the class had been cancelled. But Roxanne decided to take advantage of the other benefits the school had to offer, including the paralegal program and the small class sizes. She decided to make the most of her college career, participating in the Honors program, the Iota Delta sorority and the orientation program, despite the fact that she never was able to make that hologram.
Roxanne’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn was obvious to those she came in contact with at ULV, including her academic adviser Janis Dietz. “She was an excellent student, a true leader,” Janis, ULV professor of business administration, says.
During her scholastic endeavors, Roxanne realized she had to put the candy making business on the back burner, deciding that school was indeed top priority. Although the company was still in production mode, it was not Roxanne’s main focus. “I couldn’t work much in the beginning because of school,” she remembers.
But as soon as she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business in 2000, Sandy Candy was back in action. Using her father’s candy making machinery, Roxanne began pumping out delicious flavors of the sandy stuff under her own company name: Can You Imagine That? Inc. at her family-owned factory in Covina, Calif.
Panels of experienced taste testers, mainly neighborhood children and the Klein family, assembled to choose what flavors were a go. “It’s not hard to get people to test candy,” Roxanne says.
Her favorite Sandy Candy flavor? Orange pineapple. She even admits to keeping a secret stash of the sweet stuff hidden just for her. Now with more than 32 flavors to choose from, including bubblegum, fruit punch and vanilla cola, Sandy Candy is available to schools and organizations for fundraising events. It can even be purchased online for at home play or as a tasty craft at a birthday party. Because of its interesting set up and design, it isn’t the type of candy available in stores. “It’s not really something for 7-11,” Roxanne says truthfully.
With business booming and bringing in more than one million dollars in sales last year alone, Roxanne has continued to expand her candy line with other tasty and fun treats, including Roxy Candy. Similar to Sandy Candy, this delicious idea revolves around candy pebbles instead of sand. The latest addition to Roxanne’s candy collection is “Rainbow Crunch,” a favorite treat for anyone who loves red licorice, including Roxanne’s father. “Roxy is the most exciting person you can ever know in business. Her ideas are good and her mind never stops,” David Klein says of his enthusiastic daughter. He and his daughter both share a genuine love and excitement for the work they do, and who can blame them? Being surrounded by candy night and day is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Although Roxanne’s career has a sweeter side than the average day job, it is still quite tiresome for the busy entrepreneur. Working from inside her Chino Hills home, Roxanne answers calls, questions and places orders all hours of the day and night. “I’ve taken calls at midnight before. I try to be open whenever I can be,” she says.
If she isn’t home, she’s traveling across the nation, attending trade shows that can last an entire day or thinking of new candy concepts, just like her father taught her. “I travel at least three times a month,” Roxanne says. “I have every frequent flyer card.”
When she isn’t preoccupied with the tasks of candy manufacturing, Roxanne enjoys spending her time with her boyfriend of seven years. She is also an amateur photographer and has just recently taken up skeet shooting, although she does not know the combination to the safe in which her shotgun is kept.
There are guidelines to the candy creation process that both Roxanne and her father work by, suggestions that Roxanne offers to anyone who feels she may have the next great candy idea.
“First, you need to create an innovative product or service. After that has been determined, you need to figure out if it is capable of being massed produced, and if it is profitable. Once these two topics are established, you need to find the best market for sales,” she says.
But the most important piece of advice that Roxanne offers: “Don’t let anyone have a negative impact on your ambition.”
Roxanne, still young, has already lived the life most people dream of. She has obtained many of her goals and continues to work on those she hasn’t reached yet, all the while enjoying some of the most delicious and fun candy in existence, most of which she created.