Cotton candy brings to mind toting around plastic bags of what looks like attic insulation around a carnival, rushing to finish the fluffy confection before it hardens into a rock of pure sugar. But when Diana Hejtmanek thinks of cotton candy, the Pasadena resident and full-time teacher sees opportunity.
She launched her boutique cotton candy operation Sugar Swirls in September 2020, inspired by the TikTok videos of the process that kept her entertained during the first few months of the Covid-19 lockdown. From there, she fell further down the rabbit hole and began watching “an old grandpa on YouTube” posting instructions on how to make homemade cotton candy sugar.
“Once I found out it was a really easy process, it was more of a green light,” she says.
Hejtmanek researched the market for handmade, small-batch cotton candy in Houston, finding little in the way of competition. Most, though not all, of the cotton candy businesses in the area focus on renting out the machines over making the treats themselves. She entered the niche with seven flavors—pink vanilla, orange dreamsicle, tropical, cherry limeade, birthday cake, watermelon, and bubblegum—and began selling online and at outdoor farmer’s markets in places like Pasadena and Pearland.
“The markets have been wonderful,” she says. “Kids are obsessed with [the cotton candy]. And some adults are as well.” Children prefer the pink vanilla and bubblegum flavors, she says, while adults stopping by the Sugar Swirls stand tend to branch out and sample some of the less-traditional tastes.
Right now, Hejtmanek makes her cotton candy in her home kitchen under the Texas Cottage Food Law, assisted by her eager, supportive mother. She has exciting ideas on how to expand her business but wants to wait for the pandemic to end before making the investment.
“My main goal in all of this is to be able to get a food trailer. I want to spin it live at events,” she says. With both a background in improv and a fondness for interacting with new and recurring customers alike, Hejtmanek is enthusiastic about showcasing the process of making her ethereal treats.
The inability to teach others the ins and outs of cotton candy production hasn’t hindered the overwhelmingly positive response to Sugar Swirls, fortunately. Hejtmanek sold out her first market in mid-March, after coming close multiple times before. Clients contact her for special events —she’s even made cotton candy cakes by request—and she’s branched out into other products beyond the familiar flavored puffs.
“I do these glitter bombs. It’s a little bit of cotton candy with edible glitter that you pop into champagne or other bubbly drinks. The cotton candy dissolves and the glitter is still there. It’ll change your drink color and add some extra sparkles,” Hejtmanek says. “I did a lot of those for New Year’s Eve, and I have some bachelorette parties planned.”
Paradise Tropical Wines in Kemah took notice of her innovative wares, and the two businesses have partnered up for events featuring the popular glitter bombs. Hejtmanek doesn’t discount the possibility of wine-flavored cotton candy down the line. She’s been researching how to craft the sugar to make sure these boozy “enhancements” stick and looks forward to experimenting with interesting ways to incorporate the wines.
Sugar Swirls doesn’t have an online storefront at the moment, so orders must be placed via email at [email protected] or purchased at a farmer’s market. Hejtmanek posts her schedule to the official Sugar Swirls Facebook page to help visitors know where and when they can find her on weekends. Even without the promise of an accompanying show for the time being, kids and adults alike can still enjoy savoring a sugary handmade classic during a humid Houston day. And fortunately, Hejtmanek’s formula doesn’t harden into a rock of pure sugar within a matter of minutes.