It’s hard to miss the plethora of colorfully labeled, shiny gold bags overtaking the P.O.P. Candy Co. table at the Mar Vista and Culver City farmers markets. But this is no rainbow lollipop, sugar coma kind of candy stand. P.O.P. Candy is all about the fresh butter crunch, which you’ll find makes perfect sense to pick up with your seasonal produce.
When you visit the P.O.P. Candy stall, husband-and-wife owners Rachel Flores and Bill Waiste will likely be there to greet you with samples, indoctrinating you to their tasty take on candy. At first glance, these shards of nut-embedded toffee sheets may resemble peanut brittle, but they are distinctly different.
“We’re less sweet, we’re much more crunchy and toasty,” Rachel described. “We’re butter based, and we’re not made with oils.”
Not to mention, none of the 13 current varieties of P.O.P. Candy even contain peanuts. Or corn syrup, or soy, or gluten for that matter. But what makes this handmade small-batch candy so different is what it does contain: real butter, premium nuts cooked into the blend, and freshly ground herbs, spices, and natural extracts. For the binding agent, they found that using organic brown rice syrup helped to amplify the fresh flavors without a heavy sugariness.
“The tastes were up,” Bill said. “You could taste the toastiness of the nuts, and the herbs, and the extract much more strongly than before. And it was less sweet.“
The vast range of options they’ve created from these basic ingredients speaks to the 10+ years Rachel and Bill have devoted to developing their product, taking the core caramel-colored base into different flavor directions. It can go sweet (brown sugar and cinnamon, rum extract and vanilla), savory (fire pistachio, fennel and seeds), or both (maple bacon, thyme walnut cherries). Sampling P.O.P. Candy may remind you of other comforting homemade tastes, such as french toast, biscotti, holiday stuffing or gingerbread cookies.
“Rosewater cardamom speaks to our process very well in that each batch we use freshly ground cardamom,” Rachel said. And some flavors come from customer feedback. “We have been asked a lot about coconut, and we came out with a toasted coconut.”
Customers also participate in the creative process by experimenting with their own P.O.P. Candy food pairings. Besides crumbling the candy over ice cream and yogurt, it also adds a lively touch to salads, cheese plates, roasted vegetables like butternut squash, and even grilled steak. The different flavors also pair well with wine and beer. But it may be most fun for your tastebuds to eat it straight out of the bag… like candy.
The product has come a long way since Rachel began making homemade candy to give as holiday gifts. She experimented with recipes to create an all-natural candy inspired by Almond Roca, a flavor she loved growing up. Friends soon encouraged her to start selling it, and with Bill’s help and depth of experience as a food consultant and executive chef, a business was born in late 2007.
“It was obvious from the first that people really liked it, and we played with the recipe and got better and better at it,” Bill said. “We believe our product has never been stronger than what it is now.”
In addition to its youthful vibe, they chose the name P.O.P. as an homage to the company’s local roots. The name comes from Pacific Ocean Park, a legendary Santa Monica amusement park that once stood on the beach at the end of Ocean Park Blvd. in the 1950s and 60s.
P.O.P. Candy Co. has held a permanent spot in the Mar Vista Farmers Market since its beginnings, currently returning there the third Sunday of the month. This February, they expanded to the Culver City Farmers Market on Tuesdays.
Around LA, you also can find P.O.P. Candy products at Clementine and Cuvee in Century City and Beverly Hills, and Hoopla Emporium in Altadena. Or you can order packages online to ship. You might also spot bags selling in select shops across Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.
Throughout the spring and summer, P.O.P. Candy will be attending regional artisan markets such as Odd Nights at the Autry and Renegade LA this weekend (April 20, April 21-22) Jackalope Arts Pasadena (April 28-29), Patchwork Santa Ana (May 27), and Patchwork Long Beach (June 10), as well as events in the Bay Area. And in the fall, they will be featured in a showcase of California-made goods hosted in Paris by France’s oldest department store Le Bon Marche.
Between the farmers markets and events, Rachel and Bill particularly enjoy interacting with customers and seeing the reactions of people who sample their handmade candy for the first time.
“It’s a tasting experience. The experience of trying different flavors.” Bill said. “With new customers, new people walking up, it’s really one of our favorite drivers for this whole business.”