From the Silver Screen to Sugar & Spun
“The whole idea for Sugar & Spun came from Shrek. Jason got inspired from watching the first Shrek film, where the character Fiona spins cobwebs onto a twig, and then Shrek adds spiders and flies to it, and that was the “Aha” moment of ‘Hey, let’s do cotton candy with different kinds of toppings.’”
Justin Isip digs into a plate of wings and deviled eggs from Alchemy, and leans his elbows over the bar counter at Trademark on Folsom Street, explaining his history with the cotton candy project that’s now sold in stores nationwide. In the kitchen window, Justin’s partner, Jason Angeles of Frozen Kushterd, talks business with Alchemy Chef Ronnie Taylor, providing a glimpse into the circle of support that Sugar & Spun plays a major role in sustaining.
“Some people at Sugar & Spun I have known since Kindergarten, and that's kind of my background, is just having the same network of friends I have known for my whole life. And Jason, he has some years on me, but he has always had these crazy entrepreneurial ideas, and the first job I ever had was lining up for Nike SB Dunks, and he would pay us X amount per pair that we would get for him. So that was my first gig, and I've stuck with Jason since then, and now I have something that's in my name, and that's Sugar & Spun.”
While the initial idea of cotton candy with toppings was Jason’s, he credits Justin as the one who turned a strange concept into a product that’s set to be shipped to Asian markets in the coming weeks.
“I was like, why doesn't cotton candy have shit in it? It was this crazy idea. But to think that cotton candy hasn’t seen innovation in over 200 years of cotton candy until now, that’s kind of remarkable, too. And after Frozen Kushterd started to pop off, I had this urge to launch another business, and the Shrek idea came back into my head in 2013. And Justin started as a manager for my UPS store. I owned a franchise, and he was one of my managers, and he was graduating from school, and I said “Dude, I got this concept I want to launch, but I need someone to help me because I still have to do Frozen Kushterd, and Justin was willing and able to do it.”
Justin’s passion for the delicious flavor combinations at Sugar & Spun comes from a strong personal bond with Jason, as well as his own personal histories with the signature sweet dishes of Filipino cuisine that Sugar & Spun cleverly ports into cotton- candy based desserts.
“Mango Suman, that’s my favorite Filipino dessert, I love how my mom makes it, she does it in the banana leaves and all that, and it’s so delicious, so we thought. ‘How do we take that experience and put it into cotton candy?’ So what we do is we do a sticky rice, with freeze dried mangoes and coconut powder. and it has that same kind of savory taste because of the gluten of the sticky rice.”
Presenting such complex flavors on a canvas of whipped sugar presents several logistical challenges, and many of the flavors at Sugar & Spun employ advanced kitchen techniques to preserve the integrity of specific flavors and textures while transforming ingredients to suit cotton candy.
“For our Ube Silvana -- the Silvana is the Filpino form of the macaron -- we obliterate the silvanas into a powder, and we do a lot of molecular gastronomy to transform the liquids into powders. And for our cookie butter, we are able to turn that actual spread into a powder. And we are doing the same thing for our ube silvana, because it has a little bit of cream in it, so we are able to dry it out, pulverize it, and make it cotton candy friendly to where it doesn’t eat away at the sugar.”
Serving flavors like Ube Silvana and Mango Suman certainly means sharing his Filipino heritage, but for Justin it also presents a stimulating conversation between both Filipino, American, and Filipino-American experiences of comfort through food.
“It's a special feeling to serve Filipino flavors through cotton candy because cotton candy is a food that’s associated with very American spaces, fairs and carnivals and baseball games. And Filipinos will always love our own candies and desserts, but I think what Sugar & Spun does is bridge the two cultures together, where it’s like ‘Oh I have had cotton candy before,’ and it’s very nostalgic and we grab them with that American sense of nostalgia. But then they taste it and it flips their mind like ‘Oh, wait, it tastes like polvoron, it tastes like Mango Suman,’ and that’s where it’s also nostalgic for Filipinos. It’s that idea of Filipino togetherness and a communal thing where it’s like ‘I’ve had that before,’ and literally everyone can say that about our product, even if they haven’t ever tasted Filipino desserts before.”
Get your taste of Sugar & Spun’s wide range of delicious cotton candy concepts, including their famous Filipino-inspired flavors, at the Undiscovered Night Market.
“Undiscovered is the first market of its kind, really, and when I worked at Jason’s UPS Store on Mission Street in Daly City, I met a lot of different people from the Filipino-American community, and this market is a really big opportunity for all of us to come together and really bond together to show people what we’re about.”