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Sweet Magic Lives at Wonderpuff

A distinctive cotton candy store opens between Durham and Raleigh

Owner Jackie Morin offer pure flavor and magic at Wonderpuff in BoxyardRTP
Owner Jackie Morin offers pure, sweet flavor—and magic—at Wonderpuff in BoxyardRTP (Anna Routh Barzin)

By Eric Ginsburg

Walking into Wonderpuff — or scrolling through the cotton candy business’s Instagram — is like stepping inside a Lisa Frank illustration. But the riot of color doesn’t come from the new store’s “small batches of fairy floss.”

All of the cloud-like cotton candy spun here is white. There is a wide range of flavors, yes, but no Carolina Blue tufts or Millennial Pink sugar poufs.

“We don’t make pink and purple, it’s not who we are,” explains owner Jackie Morin. “We’re Caribbean people, we’re Black folks. Flavor is everything to us. I think that’s our most important factor.”

Though the flavors range from rose lemonade to raspberry mojito, and Wonderpuff all the cotton candy is white
Though the flavors range from rose lemonade to raspberry mojito, and Wonderpuff all the cotton candy is white (Anna Routh Barzin)

Over the last four years, she’s built a thriving business selling cotton candy made with only pure cane sugar and organic flavoring. By focusing on taste rather than the artificially bright colors common at the state fair, Jackie and partner Rem Morin have grown a dedicated following. When they sought community support to open their first brick-and-mortar space, they quickly raised more than $23,000 on Kickstarter with nearly 600 backers.

And now, behind a door reading “Magic lives here,” Wonderpuff is open to the public, inside a repurposed shipping container at tech-park Boxyard RTP. A disco ball, loudly painted walls, and sparkly décor greet patrons, radiating the same ineffable energy as the person behind it.

“I tell people it’s to make up for the colorless cotton candy,” Morin said. “I want people to see Wonderpuff and think of rainbows, and just really great tasting cotton candy. Our intention is to lead with bright vibrations and colors and youthful energy, because our cotton candy look like clouds.”

Opening any business amidst a pandemic is a considerable risk. In Wonderpuff’s case, the risk is compounded by the fact that it’s a novelty store. It’s unabashedly unique, with creative flavors ranging from rose lemonade to Haitian cake to raspberry mojito, but it’s also out of the way in the Research Triangle Park at Boxyard, where much of the complex is still under construction.

Morin is well aware of the odds, but she’s relatively unfazed. “We don’t bite off more than we can chew,” she said. “Everything about Wonderpuff has always been on a budget.”

Describing themselves as “middle-class Americans with student loan debt,” Jackie and Rem made a point not to apply for business loans or open new credit cards. By spending within their means and growing slowly, they’re reducing opportunities for failure.

“I think it’s really just stepping into faith and having faith that the people that supported us all this time will still be here,” she said. “We’re not Frank Ocean’s pop-up in Manhattan. We make fresh cotton candy that is accessible to everyone, so that is a plus side. That can help us remain open.”

Early on in the pandemic, Wonderpuff saw an influx of business as consumers flocked to save small businesses. The indulgence of organic cotton candy, which is also a light, vegan and gluten-free dessert, proved a big draw for patrons who took advantage of Wonderpuff’s nationwide shipping.

“If somebody’s telling me, ‘Yo, this product is dope and you need to get it,’ I’m going to listen to you,” Morin said. “That’s how we’ve been able to stay alive.”

Before COVID-19, the developers at Boxyard RTP approached Wonderpuff. It was an easy sell, Morin said — all small businesses, a realistic footprint, and a location central to the entire Triangle.

“I just love the whole shipping container idea,” she said. “It was such a perfect size for us to start off with.”

Where magic lives in Boxyard RTP
Where magic lives in Boxyard RTP (Anna Routh Barzin)

So far, not too many patrons are wandering into Wonderpuff after lunch at Lawrence BBQ or while perusing some of the complex’s other shops. For now, the customer base is intentionally seeking out a sugar fix, flocking especially to the mango cotton candy served with either pop rocks or chili lime. It’s one of the year-round options and arguably the bestseller, Morin said, while other flavors like blueberry waffles are seasonally rotated.

Occasionally when people learn about her business, they’re taken aback, Morin said.

“Sometimes people are like, ‘Just cotton candy?!’ I’m like, ‘Yes chile, just cotton candy,’” she said.

But Morin does have plans to expand the business, branching into wholesaling and acquiring a range of products from independent artists to sell in the store. She’s keeping the specifics under wraps for now, but said that as a “die-hard Taurus,” she believes strongly in spoiling yourself and relaxing, adding that anything she adds to Wonderpuff’s storefront will be in that vein.

Admittedly business is “kind of slow right now,” Morin said, but things are going well enough that Jackie and Rem recently hired a few people to help make cotton candy. For Morin, who learned to spin cotton candy while volunteering with a nonprofit during its outdoor festivals back when she lived in Miami, it’s been harder to teach other people the craft than expected. But the draw to the medium is effortless.

“It’s very ASMR energy,” she said. “You can get stuck watching sugar spin. Making cotton candy in front of people, it touches all of your senses.”

Morin originally planned Wonderpuff as a short-lived popup, seeing it as a way to raise enough money to invest in her own makeup line. She still wears vibrant eye shadow, but her original dream has been eclipsed by the possibilities of a thriving cotton candy company.

“There’s enough makeup in the world, she said. “You can buy makeup anywhere, but you can’t really buy what we’re making.”

Triangle

About the Author

Eric Ginsburg

Eric is an independent journalist based in Raleigh. His work has appeared in Bon Appétit, VICE, Wine Enthusiast, Teen Vogue, Serious Eats, Business Insider, and many other publications. He previously worked as an editor and staff writer at Triad City Beat and YES! Weekly in Greensboro and as an editor at INDY Week in Durham.