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Candyman: The Story of Jelly Belly Founder, David Klein

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 2, 2024 3:03 am

Candyman: The Story of Jelly Belly Founder, David Klein

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 2, 2024 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Willy Wonka's got nothing on David Klein! David's eccentric personality and peculiar sense of business led him to leave Jelly Belly. He's here to share his story of how he lost his beans, but kept his soul.

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Here's David Klein to share the story of how he lost his beans, but kept his soul. I was born in Syracuse, New York. We left there when I was three and a half and I remember nothing about it.

We came to California. My dad was the best furniture salesman in the world. And he knew more about furniture than anybody alive. And when I was growing up, I worked in a liquor store that my aunt and grandmother owned.

It was in Van Nuys, right next to a Union 76 station that was owned by Joe Funicello and that Funicello's father. And in those days, if your family owned the liquor store, you could work in there. And from the age of about seven to 13, I worked in the liquor store all during the summer and after school. And I got quite an experience dealing with the public. I learned how to count money at the age of seven, make change and all the things that I learned there. I wanted to put into a book one day.

And the title of the book would be everything I knew in life, I learned working in a liquor store. And what happened was we had a candy section there. And I would go with my aunt once a week to Smart and Final, which was one of the wholesale candy places. Most of the candy bars back in those days, let's see, it was 1946 plus seven. We said for some paper 951 to 1953 for 951 to 1953 Smart and Final would display the bars, the candy bars, 24 in a box. And if there was no shrink, shrink, shrink wrapped on any of the boxes, if you wanted to taste one of the bars to see if you like it, you would put a nickel right in the box. And then take a bar out.

And that way, whoever bought that box would already have a sale. And it was I made a study of candy at the starting at the age of seven. I would study every bar, see where it was made, see the company who made it and then go to the library.

I did a study on Standard and Poor's Guide in the financial reference section. And I would look to see, for example, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger. Those were made in those days by the Curtis Candy Company.

And then I followed the company when it was acquired by Standard Brands and then when it was acquired by Nabisco. And through all of the, I would learn the history of every candy bar. When I was in school and the teacher had to leave the room for a few minutes, she would ask me or she or he would ask me to come up in the front and talk about candy. And kids would yell out names of candy bars.

And I would tell them the history behind that particular bar. I went to Van Nuys High in Van Nuys, California. I graduated Van Nuys High with honors and went to UCLA, graduated with a degree in economics, which is a fantastic major. While I was at UCLA, I used to sell popcorn. I was in the popcorn business with my uncle where I would go after school. I had already taken the back seat out of my car. I loaded the car with bags of popped popcorn. And I was selling those primarily to liquor stores because you can go into a liquor store till actually two in the morning in California.

You cannot sell liquor legally after two in the morning. So I would usually have my route till about 11 o'clock at night. I would go in all kinds of areas that I really should not have been in at night.

But I was and nothing ever happened to me. And then I would go home and I'd get up at 6, 7 o'clock in the morning and go to UCLA. After school, I would go pop the popcorn in Atwater. And I really learned about the food business by doing that. In order to learn a business, it's nice to read about it. But unless you really get in there and get your hands dirty, you really need to experience the business. Here's what happened in law school.

I always knew that I would never want to be an attorney. I went there because my parents wanted me to. And I also went there so that I would have a legal background if we ever had any legal problems.

I graduated in the top of my class. When it came to take the bar, the bar was in two parts. The first part was in the morning. And then the second part, it was a true and false test on legal responsibility.

And I never went back for the second part. I went to get a haircut instead. I knew that if I had passed the bar, which I'm sure I would have, I would have become an attorney, and it wasn't for me.

It wasn't what I personally wanted to do in my life. And it was almost as if I knew I would be in the candy business someday. It was almost like there was nothing else for me to do. I would be in the candy business. And there was something about candy.

I like the idea that you could always come up with a new idea, a new creation. And when I was in the wholesale candy and nut business, one day I came up with the idea of creating a gourmet jellybean. I was watching television at 8.15. Happy days.

Happy days was on the air when I was talking to a buddy on the phone. We were talking about new businesses because I always love to talk about new businesses. And I said, I think I'm going to open up a candy store and only sell jellybeans.

Nothing else. And he said, jellybeans? I said, yes, jellybeans, no jawbreakers, no gumballs. Just jellybeans.

And I knew that if that's what I concentrated on, they would have to be special jellybeans. And that's when the idea started. I had $800 to my name. No credit cards back then.

The only credit card that was available was Diners Club. The year was 1976. And you've been listening to David Klein tell the story of Jelly Belly and what a story it is. His father, as he said, was the best furniture salesman in the world. He learned so much about life, simply working the register and working in essence at the local family liquor store where we would buy supplies, buy products and services and goods, and he learned how to run a business or be a part of a business run by a family. When we come back, we're going to find out what happens next as one man pursues his dream.

David Klein's story, the story of Jelly Belly here on Our American Stories. With Luckyland Slots, you can get lucky just about anywhere. This is your captain speaking. We've got clear runway and the weather's fine, but we're just going to circle up here a while and get lucky.

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Toyota. Let's go places. And we continue with David Klein's story. And he is the founder and inventor of Jelly Belly. And when we last left off, he had $800 to his name. And he set out to create the world's first gourmet jelly bean.

Let's pick up where we last left off. Here's David Klein. I approached the company that was in Oakland, California. Their name was Herman Goelitz.

G-O-E-L-I-T-Z. And I asked them if they would be my contract manufacturer. And I told them what the idea was.

And they said, sure, let's give it a shot. And in the beginning, we had a very hard time selling the product. Most of the beans back in those days, our competition, they were selling for about 49, 59 cents a pound. And that's exactly what I was paying my contract manufacturer, 59 a pound.

That's what every other bean was retailing for. I realized that in order to get the product off the ground, I would have to get some publicity for it. So one day I called up the Associated Press, talked to a young man by the name of Steve Fox. He was in charge of the business section.

Associated Press was huge back in those days. And I realized that they could make or break the product. I could have started with a local newspaper, but I figured I'd start at the top. I didn't have enough money to rent a store. So I called on one of my wholesale customers who I sold walnuts to and almonds that they put in their ice cream.

They had an ice cream factory at 1824 West Main in Alhambra. And I said to them, you have your medals from the county fair over in the corner. I would like to have that space. This is my new product.

It's going to be called Jelly Bellies. And I would like to put a little stand in there, which I will pay for. So he said, OK, how much rent do you want to pay?

And I said, I can't really pay any rent because I just don't have the funds. And I said, how about if I pay you a dollar for every pound that is sold? One dollar. The first dollar goes to you. He said, well, how much are they going to sell for? I said two dollars a pound. I said, I will split whatever comes in.

You get the first dollar. And he said, it sounds good. So I put the stand in there. I had a daughter of one of the men that owned the ice cream parlor was an exceptionally good graphic artist. And she called me up and said she needed a project for her art center school. She was at the College of Art and Design. And she would like to use Jelly Belly as her term paper. And I left it up to her. She was the one that picked out the colors.

And she did the Jelly Belly logo that is still in use today. A young lad came in one day on a bicycle. And he said, I would like to try one of your strawberry jelly beans. So I had a little spoon there.

I spooned out one. And I said, here, what do you think of it? And he said, that doesn't taste like strawberry. I said, OK, what does it taste like? He said that tastes like cotton candy. And as soon as he left, I had one of the sign makers there make me a sign that said cotton candy. And from then on in, there was no strawberry flavor. It was cotton candy. And I never got a chance to thank that young lad.

He's out there somewhere. The first order of jelly beans that I got in, there were eight flavors. Root beer was one of them. I always loved root beer. The soda. I loved root beer and I love cream soda.

So we had a vanilla one. And instead of calling it vanilla, I named it cream soda. I always like to have creative names to all of the flavors. Instead of calling one chocolate, it was chocolate pudding.

So I tried to create as many names that were different just to distinguish them from other products. So when I told them what I wanted, I said, I want to make a miniature jelly bean. I didn't want the big ones like they used to see in Easter baskets. And I told them that the beans have to be flavored on the inside as well as on the outside shell. That way I could do double flavors.

I could do like chocolate banana and do the outside chocolate and the inside banana. I told them I wanted a watermelon bean and I wanted it green on the outside and red on the inside. Prior to Jelly Belly's, every jelly bean that you used to see used to be white on the inside because they made only one center. And then they put the flavor into the shell if they put any flavor at all. Most jelly beans tasted the same except for the black one, the licorice one. And so I was really the first one to come up with the idea of flavoring the outside as well as the inside.

And that's how Jelly Belly got its start. And most days we took in about $20. That was the average day until the article came out in the Associated Press. And then I started getting calls from department stores such as Marshall Fields in Chicago. They said, we want to buy your beans.

I said, we're here in California. How did you hear about them? Well, it was just in the Chicago Tribune. It was also in the Detroit Free Press. It was in the New York Times.

It was in the L.A. Times. The article broke on the wire and it went everywhere. And the product really started to take off. It took off to the point where sales were just incredible. My contract manufacturer actually could not keep up with the orders. When I initially had talked to them, I asked them, I said, this is going to be big, guys.

I said, are you going to be able to keep up with all the orders? And they said yes. And I did not realize that they were primarily a small candy corn manufacturer in Oakland with about 10 employees. And somehow or another in my mind, I always picture them as a larger company.

The biggest mistake I ever made was not flying up there in the beginning to see what what their factory looked like, because if I had seen it, I would have known that they never would have been able to keep up with production. And you're listening to David Klein tell the story of Jelly Belly, and he's an innovator. There's no other jelly bean. I'll eat the Jelly Belly and I don't care how much more expensive they are.

And I know a lot of you listening feel the same way about your beloved beans. When we come back, more of the story of Jelly Belly here on our American stories. NFL fans, it's time to unwrap nonstop football action this holiday season. Throw down on big matchups with DraftKings Sportsbook, an official sports betting partner of the NFL. This week, new customers can bet just five bucks on the NFL and score one hundred and fifty instantly in bonus bets.

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So shop, learn more, get details at Toyota dot com slash beyond zero Toyota. Let's go places. Vroom, vroom. And we continue with the story of Jelly Belly and its founder, David Klein. And when we last left off, thanks to Klein's round the clock promotion, Jelly Belly sales skyrocketed. But his contract manufacturer in Oakland couldn't keep up with the orders. Klein told us, quote, The biggest mistake I ever made was not flying up there in the beginning to see what their factory looked like, because if I'd seen it, I would have known that they would have never been able to keep up with production. Here's Klein with the final installment of his story.

And then O.J. Simpson was on the cover of People magazine, the issue that I was in. And when my contract manufacturer saw the picture I had on bathing shorts and nothing else. He turned to his sales manager and said that I had blown the whole golden goose.

Because nobody would buy a product from somebody that would pose half naked in a magazine. And so at that point in time, he instructed his sales manager. They also made candy corn, and it was made on the same equipment as the jelly beans. He instructed him without telling me to sign as many contracts as he could to be selling candy corn at 29 cents a pound just to keep the factory open. I was never told that. So here I am trying to promote an item that I am wondering why there's no production on.

And what it did, it created a void in the marketplace that other manufacturers were just happy to fill. One day I got a call from the owner of my contract manufacturing company. And he said, we're coming to town. And I said, okay, great. I'll pick you up at the airport.

What airport are you flying into? And he said, it's not going to be one of those kind of meetings. And I said, well, what kind of meeting is it? He said, we're coming to buy your trademark and we're not going to leave until we do. As soon as I signed the contract where we were turning the name over to them, we were driving on Rosemead Boulevard to the bank to get the contract notarized. And while on the way there, I was sitting in the back seat.

Herm, my contract manufacturer, was in the front seat. And he turned around and I said, Herm, I have one question for you. If we were not on our way to the bank to have this contract notarized, what would you have done?

And he said, do you really want to know? I said, yeah, tell me what would you have done? He said, we would have flown back to Oakland and on Monday morning we would have shut off production to you on Jelly Belly's. We would have cut you off completely.

You would not have any more product. We know you would have sued us, but by the time it got to court, you would have been broke. Those were his exact words.

I can remember them today like they were yesterday. We would have cut you off. In fact, they told me as we were going to get it notarized, they had another name already picked out that he had on the other side of his lap, on a piece of paper on his lap. He said, you want to see the name that we would have called it? And I said, sure.

And he showed it to me. I don't remember what that name was. But anyway, they took over ownership of the name. They paid us 17 cents a pound for the first 120,000 pounds per month royalty maximum.

Once the product reached that level, there was no royalty at all. So we only got paid on the first 120,000 pounds at 17 cents a pound, which came to $20,000 per month. I split that with my partner and then Uncle Sam obviously got his share of it. And right from the beginning, when I sold, it was almost like selling a member of your family, a child, Jelly Belly. I spent four years of my life going around the country, promoting the product, being on radio shows, on talk shows, on television shows at least once a week and giving interviews and magazines and all kinds of media.

And losing the ownership of it was heartbreaking for me. The minute they took over, they started packaging the product and the prior packaging had my signature on there. Mr. Jelly Belly, about two months later, I went into a supermarket and I looked at the package and there was a computer generated Mr. Jelly Belly instead of my Mr. Jelly Belly signature. When they came out with a book called The 30 Year History of Jelly Bellys, I was not even mentioned in that at all. So they pretended that I never existed.

As soon as Colonel Sanders sold out, he was still Colonel Sanders. As soon as I sold out, I was nobody. So they basically did what they could to destroy any knowledge of me having anything to do with the product. But for many, many years, I just did not have a good feeling about creating the product. But I've come to terms with the fact that so many people were employed by the company. All I can tell you is it was an experience creating a product that's got about 98% name recognition.

But you have to recreate yourself. Recently, we got involved in the CBD jelly bean business. We are making jelly beans with CBD in them, 10 milligrams per bean. So right now, back in to the jelly bean business after all these years. Last year, around September, we started a new venture. It's called the gold ticket dot com. It's a nationwide treasure hunt. We hide a gold necklace in 50 states, different areas, obviously, and we give clues, riddles.

We give a riddle so that they know where it is. The winner for each of the 50 contests received $5,000. All states were claimed. And we received so much positive feedback on that because while COVID was going on, people didn't have too many activities that they could go to this.

They could pile everybody into a car and travel all together. And it was extremely successful. So it was so successful that we're doing another round of that same activity. So we're very happy doing that.

And we feel like we're doing something really good for the world. And the one documentary that's out there now is shown on Amazon. And you can watch it if you're an Amazon member for free. And it's been seen all over the world. It's called Candyman, the David Klein story. My son and his wife and Costa Botez collaborated on it. They made it into a very good, very great documentary, in my opinion, that will stand the test of times. So that brings us up to date, and I love being in a business where you feel that you can help people.

This is America. If you come up with a good idea, you can run with that idea. Make them happy. That's the whole idea behind it. And a great job on that piece by Greg. And a special thanks to David Klein for telling his story.

The David Klein story, the story of Jelly Belly, here on Our American Stories. Congratulations to the Walt Disney Studios technology team. First place award winner for innovation in employee enablement at the 2023 unconventional awards presented by T-Mobile for business. Disney's studio lab and production technology teams are constantly searching for innovative ways to help studio creatives solve production challenges through dynamic collaboration. By discovering and leveraging T-Mobile's 5G solutions, the Walt Disney Studios technology teams streamline production and collaboration in real time, avoiding costly delays and enabling creativity. T-Mobile for business congratulates the teams for their innovation and unconventional thinking. Learn more at goodandbeautifulbooklist.com and bring home a love of learning.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-02 04:36:38 / 2024-01-02 04:48:38 / 12

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