Brimming with curious foodies and hungry Angelenos, Smorgasburg in Los Angeles serves as the home to a diverse lineup of talented chefs and restaurants, each with their own unique culinary perspective. Few, however, boast the colorful and captivating presence that The Puffs command. With cotton candy confections standing three feet tall (and both owners at over six feet tall), the booth and its dedicated vendors are hard to miss.
At the helm of The Puffs are business partners, friends and former neighbors Sean Smith and Brayden LeBlanc-Jackson. Smith, having worked in the candy industry for 10 years (eight of which were spent at Dylan’s Candy Bar corporate) – “It’s basically the same as a normal corporate job,” he said, “except there’s the conference tables made out of gumballs” – wanted to further explore his passion for sweets and cotton candy-making abilities. At the same moment, LeBlanc-Jackson, a veteran of luxury fashion retail, was also seeking respite from the corporate world.
Fed up with their prior jobs, both sought a role where they had creative control. “We wanted something where we could be as queer and colorful and ridiculous as we want it to be,” said Smith. “So we decided let’s do cotton candy. Let’s make them into ridiculous shapes, to make them huge. In 2019, we made our debut at the ROW [where Smorgasburg is located in LA) and now we’re back.”
Wandering around Smorgasburg, you’re bound to witness someone pointing at a stranger holding a Puff creation and asking, “Where did you get that?” The two love seeing the amazed looks and positive responses when people come across their work. “Part of why we like it so much is that we can really start to interact with people and bring that full force, joy and color in your face, just a real celebration of ‘don’t be so serious, have a good time, eat some cotton candy.’” The pair’s infectious energy and passion for their craft shows through in every thoughtfully-conceived and cleverly-named edible sculpture they spin.
Layered with colors and flavors, a single Puff goes for $10 and comes in a variety of shapes. On the menu, customers will find such creations as the flower-shaped Proud to be a Pansy Puff wrapped in green apple “leaves,” the heart-shaped BetweenMeDownTheres Puff, the popular Literally Shitting Rainbows Puff and of course, with a nod to the iconic Carol Channing and her infamous Broadway urban legend, the I Don’t Remember Eating Unicorn Puff, among others.
This is no county fair cotton candy. Before opening, Smith spent months honing his craft by studying cotton candy techniques from around the globe. “I practiced a lot and like I tell people, it took me probably eight hours of practice for each shape, to really refine them and refine the technique,” he said. “For us, instead of building things out horizontally, I decided it would be better to build things out vertically and make them big and tall, like us.”
The Puffs are proud to be a beacon of humor and light in the often all-too-serious corporate (and culinary) landscape. “You know, it was an opportunity, especially at least in my life at that moment,” said LeBlanc-Jackson. “I’m not going to speak for Sean, but it was just like, I needed something joyful. I needed happy; I needed joy.”
In the spirit of spreading that joy, 10% of all The Puff’s net proceeds are donated to multiple organizations supporting the LGTBQIA2S+ community. “I needed to give back. I needed to celebrate the people, the amazing, diverse community that we belong to,” said LeBlanc-Jackson. “So that’s why we decided right off the bat, we’re going to donate money back by doing this. I just needed something fun and silly. Fun for us, fun for them, fun to see, fun to watch. Just like a goddamn good time.”
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