Willy Wonka-Inspired 'Candy Alchemist' Spins Sugar Into Pure Imagination : The Salt A tiny, hard-to-find storefront in Brooklyn is home to the darkly whimsical world of a most unusual candy maker. Eugene J. studied chemical engineering before opening an experimental candy shop.
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Willy Wonka-Inspired 'Candy Alchemist' Spins Sugar Into Pure Imagination

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Willy Wonka-Inspired 'Candy Alchemist' Spins Sugar Into Pure Imagination

Willy Wonka-Inspired 'Candy Alchemist' Spins Sugar Into Pure Imagination

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

As Roald Dahl's "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" comes to Broadway this spring, across town, a real-life Willy Wonka is whipping up his own new confections. Allyson McCabe takes us inside the darkly, whimsical world of a mysterious Brooklyn candy alchemist.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: This tiny storefront lab isn't easy to find. The facade is black. The signage is practically nonexistent. Inside, behind a purple satin curtain, a scientist toils away on his latest invention.

EUGENE J.: There's so many variables - temperature, the humidity. You look at solubility charts. When you add certain ingredients...

MCCABE: Not much is known about this man in black who calls himself Eugene J.

EUGENE J.: Since it's a seven-hour process, you get kind of taken away. Pretty much have to put in earplugs and enter a state of Zen, I suppose (laughter).

MCCABE: As hundreds of Day-Glo pellets tumble hypnotically inside a revolving silver sphere, he recalls some of his earliest prototypes.

EUGENE J.: Everyone else had an Easy-Bake Oven. And I had this, like, candy making kit, which - with like a little double boiler and little gizmos to cast gummies into little molds.

MCCABE: Eugene j. studied chemical engineering in college, then took a job in manufacturing. But he continued his experiments after hours. He moved to Berlin not far from a popular nightclub.

EUGENE J.: I would bike out at 2 a.m. in the morning and out of a briefcase, sell my double-sided lollipops.

MCCABE: Returning to New York, he quit his day job to apprentice at Dylan's Candy Bar, stocking shelves at what's billed as the world's largest confectionery emporium. What he lost in salary, he gained in inspiration.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")

GENE WILDER: (As Willy Wonka) (Singing) Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination.

EUGENE J.: Stocking Wonka Nerds and Wonka Runts or Wonka SweeTARTS, you know, Wonka was fully in my head.

MCCABE: He opened the Eugene J. Candy Company a year ago - stocking wax fangs, gummy brains and scads of other offbeat novelties. He also makes his own candy called FG. Freaks - a playful nod to Willy Wonka's rival, Fickelgruber.

EUGENE J.: So we're just going to take a ladle over here and add some of this sugar syrup to the batch.

MCCABE: But when pushed for details, he's not entirely forthcoming.

EUGENE J.: (Laughter) You're in Wonka's realm now, so anything is possible.

MCCABE: When the batch is complete, he funnels the freaks into a glass apothecary jar, stamps the wax top with an off-kilter jack-o'-lantern and places it on a slanted shelf - part candy, part curio.

EUGENE J.: There is something to embrace about the perfectly imperfect.

MCCABE: These kids find Eugene J.'s mysterious freaks irresistible.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I like it. Good.

MCCABE: For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe in Brooklyn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CANDY MAN")

SAMMY DAVIS JR.: (Singing) Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two? The candy man, the candy man can.

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