Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Locally Made Caramels

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Locally Made Caramels

Dentist Jenny Citineni and husband Tom Thekkekandam combat cavities with sugar-free candy company

Photo by Eric Waters Photography

Treats without the toothache. That’s what Dr. Jenny Citineni of Triangle Kids Pediatric Dentistry was after. While running a rural children’s dental clinic in New York City, “Jenny became frustrated at how hard it is to really instill healthy eating habits,” says husband and co-founder Tom. “In particular, sugar is addictive and it’s difficult to convince patients to cut out sugary sweets.”

Sugar-free options are not great alternatives. “Most sugar-free candies taste awful,” Tom says. So, the couple set out to make their own. “Before long, Jenny and I were spending weekends testing recipes. We worked on hundreds of batches of candy, from gummies to chocolates. But our best successes came with caramels.”

With some help from James Beard award-winning pastry chef Michael Laiskonis – and a few friends and family tastings later – Tom and Jenny had a winner … actually, they had two. Tom & Jenny’s Candy Company comes in original and chocolate soft caramels. Within a year, the family, now with daughters Ava B., 3, and Ella B., 1, moved back to Durham. And Tom – who had completed his juris doctor/master’s degree in business administration at Duke while Jenny was in dental school at UNC – became a full-time candy man.

“We came back because we knew the entrepreneurial ecosystem here and the resources would be an ideal incubator for our company,” Tom says. Since September 2014, they’ve grown from a team of two to seven, supporting jobs at logistics provider Durham Exchange Club Industries. “Being [in Durham] has allowed us to bootstrap our company far longer than we could have in most big cities, without giving up amenities or human capital,” Tom says.“We have been able to take advantage of so many great resources, advisors and opportunities here.”

Jenny and Tom with daughters Ava B., 3, and Ella B., 1. Photo by Nina Merklina Photography.

By the Numbers

  • Launched: September 2014
  • Transitioning from a handmade operation to a large manufacturing facility, Tom & Jenny’s went from making 30 pounds to 5,000 pounds in one batch, with the ability to scale larger if need be.
  • Since moving to the manufacturing facility in October 2016, sales have grown between 20% to 45% month over month.
  • Tom & Jenny’s overall rating on Amazon is 4.6 stars with more than 160 reviews.
  • Nearly 200 blind taste tests of Tom & Jenny’s caramels versus other sugar caramels were conducted. “Over 60% [of tasters] preferred the taste of our caramels compared to sugar caramels,” Tom says.