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Photo courtesy of Tamalitoz

For inhabitants of a country with a dizzying variety of candy, Americans are not very familiar with handmade confectionery. Enter the candy pullers of Instagram, who make mesmerizing, widely viewed content folding, rolling out, and chopping little pieces of hard candy most of us have never tasted. Enter the Mexican-American brand Tamalitoz.

These little “pillows,” as candy maker and founder Jack Bessudo calls them, are made in a similar way to candy canes. Hard candy is placed on a puller (like the saltwater taffy machines of the Northeast), which incorporates some air into the sugar mixture. It’s rolled out into logs, and stretched into thinner canes, which then go through a roller pinching them into little pillow shapes, like ravioli.

“I learned how to make candy from a guy that worked in this candy shop in Australia,” says Bessudo. “So I had actually seen that candy shop on a business trip, like, 20 years ago, and I fell in love with the concept of that store.”

The European technique produces what many think of as old-fashioned candies, but Tamalitoz are kicked up a notch with traditional Mexican flavors for an exciting fusion: no matter the flavor of the candy itself — things like watermelon, mango, tamarind, and cucumber — each pillow is filled with chili, lime, and sea salt. The hard candy forms a shell around the outside, and the aerated inside dissolves, similar to malt powder.

In August, Tamalitoz added a softer, low-sugar candy to the lineup — like a vegan Starburst sweetened with monk fruit — called ChewLows. This October, the brand also expects to release a new collaboration with Nadia Elhaj of Cornucopia, a popcorn maker in Tamalitoz's new home, Austin. Both expansions stay on-brand with fruity flavors and a spicy kick.

Tamalitoz were best-sellers at Bessudo’s several shops in Mexico, Sugarox, where visitors loved watching the process. His English boyfriend, Dec — who would become his husband — helped around the shop in its early stages, handling the more serious business while Jack experimented with sugar.

Thankfully, Tamalitoz were also easy to make, so they were the flagship product when the couple decided it was time to expand. The Sugarox owners both loved Mexico, but the language barrier was hard for Dec, who suggested moving the business to the United States, where Jack had grown up, in Houston.

Rather than suffer through the minutia of international candy exporting alone, Bessudo made some friends. Serving as a board member for the American Society of Mexico, he met City of San Antonio representative Jill Metcalfe, who in turn connected him with the Free Trade Alliance. Things moved fast.

“They helped us with looking at the business plan and the opportunities, and they were a really great bunch of people,” says Bessudo. “After we did all of that … they offer to set up meetings with potential buyers. The first people that ever saw the finished product was two days after we had done [the packaging]. And one of the meetings that we had was with the procurement person at H-E-B.”

Still a small team hand-making candy at every step, Sugarox stretched itself thin to make 9,000 bags per month, falling far short of H-E-B’s goal of 60,000. The Texas retailer said it’d wait. Meanwhile, a Walmart buyer at a convention put Tamalitoz on shelves as Sugarox worked to up its production, learning the hard way that making thousands of bags of candy is not the same quaint experience as running some stores on charm and taste.

“One of my concerns was, how are people going to react to a high-end Mexican style candy?” says Bessudo. “Living in San Antonio, Mexican candy is not considered premium. It's delicious, but it's not premium. Especially with the pricing strategy … to our surprise, people were extremely accepting of it.”

At the same convention, they met another shop owner who explained her candy making process at a facility in Tijuana, Mexico. The new allies created a new supply chain from Tijuana to San Diego to Austin, where the couple moved, and started delivering small shipments to local H-E-Bs. They passed the 20-store milestone, shifted to UPS shipments, and started the expansions that led to chews and popcorn.

Like many pandemic businesses going through growing pains, Sugarox had to cut back somewhere, and the pair decided to close all their Mexican stores. Thus far, though, Tamalitoz have crossed every invisible line, from Mexico to San Antonio; as a gay couple looking for support in corporate retail; and as artisans hoping to show Americans how high their candy standards can be. Mexico has not tasted its last Tamalitoz.

Tamalitoz can be found at H-E-B, Walmart, and independent retailers mapped at tamalitoz.com. A new popcorn product is coming soon.

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.