A ‘sugar daddy’ and his sweet menagerie
MANILA, Philippines — A few months after longtime friends Ange dela Cruz and Louisa Poblete-Pantangco launched Pouf, their luxe cotton candy cart, they received a message from a client: “I want to get you for an event but I want cotton candy shaped like birds.”
“I was like, ‘What? How would we do that?’” said Ange, who also runs the desserts company The Sweet Life By Ange.
“Someone’s doing it,” the client said.
That someone was Arnold Castro, the security guard-turned-cotton candy vendor who put a new spin on the carnival treat by creating all kinds of animal shapes — teddy bears, pigs, elephants, tarsiers, koalas, dinosaurs and yes, birds.
The Inquirer featured a front-page story about Arnold in December 2014 after spotting him at a children’s party and realizing, after an internet search, that no one else was doing what he was doing anywhere in the world.
Arnold developed the technique of making cotton candy animals himself — it was his way of trying to earn more as he hit the streets of Makati City with his cart in tow. And he had to make money because he had a wife and three kids to support.
Ange and her mom searched for Arnold using the Inquirer story as a map of sorts. After over a week, and with help from one of The Sweet Life employees and a Makati security guard, they found him in Barangay Poblacion.
“We really dropped everything to go and see him. When he started doing the shapes, we were amazed,” Ange said.
“I called Louisa and we started screaming. We found him.” The very next day, Arnold signed a contract with Pouf.
With the previous party company he had worked with, Arnold had to use his own cart and paid for his own supplies.
This time, Pouf provided the cart and the supplies and shouldered all the costs. He also gets a monthly retainer, food allowance and is paid for every event where he makes cotton candy in various shapes.
It was a good setup but Arnold had to first overcome one hurdle: learning how to operate an electric cotton candy maker, which was a lot faster than the one he had been used to.
But Arnold soon got the hang of it and figured out how to make his animals with the more modern machine. He mastered it and, with the help of Ange’s attention to detail, his cotton candy animals looked better than ever — fuller and more intricate and colorful.
“He did so well at his first event. There was a crazy line,” said Ange. “There was a huge demand for Pouf to do events because it was so unique. We couldn’t fill the demand. We only had one guy.”
Call in the cousins
They couldn’t clone Arnold, so they settled for the next best thing — they got members of his family of cotton candy vendors.
They brought in his cousin Marvin Bullo, another cousin Michael Bullo and their nephew Joey Bullo. Arnold taught them how to shape cotton candies.
“They’re the stars of Pouf,” said Ange.
Other cotton candy vendors couldn’t learn how to make the shapes, she said.
“It’s like the universe is telling us to just work with (Arnold and his relatives),” she said. “It’s like the Lord is saying just use them.”
Pouf does events regularly — birthday parties, baby showers, weddings and more, sometimes over 20 a month. They have served their special cotton candies in clubs, hotels, malls and in events outside Manila. There’s been plenty of interest from outside the Philippines, too, said Ange.
They’ve worked with different companies, creating special shapes for them: the swoosh for Nike, lips for SM’s lipstick event, Clinique bottles for Clinique, flip-flops and pins for Havaianas, even cotton candy shaped like power tools for Bosch.
The men enjoy the challenge of creating new shapes. They’ve even introduced innovations like using scissors to create dinosaur spines.
They say working with Pouf has changed their lives, making them more comfortable. Michael, also a father of three, was able to finish building his house in Pangasinan.
Marvin and Joey have been able to buy motorbikes. And Arnold, whose eldest Ria is now headed to college to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher, continues to save money for his children.
“I am really focused on my children. I really save money for them,” he said. “I’d be so happy if they just finished their studies.”
Michael dreams of seeing his kids finish school, too. His eldest, Gimmiel, wants to be a nurse.
Asked how else his life has changed, Arnold joked, “I am a bit like a movie star now, Ma’am,” he said. “In the past I looked unkempt in T-shirt and slippers whenever there was an event. Now I wear long-sleeves.”
Ange said Arnold and his cousins and nephew were “super good people.”
“They’ve never been late, not even once. They don’t complain, they work hard and they’re loyal. They’re also innovative … They’re natural problem solvers,” she said.
With the popularity of their cotton candies, copycats are even using Pouf’s Instagram photos on their menus even if they couldn’t make them. “They have a certain style and it’s very clean,” said Ange of Arnold and the others. “They’ve really perfected their art.”
“Some people create shapes out of cotton candy using their hands, they wear gloves. But anyone can do that. What Arnold and the rest of them do is art. They don’t touch the cotton candy, they shape as they spin,” she said.
Ange and Louisa have come up with new cart concepts in response to the growing competition. They now have carts that serve cake creams (ice cream based on The Sweet Life’s cakes), popcorn and skinny fries in delicious flavors, including truffle.
“If the demand for cotton candy goes down, we have other carts. It’s really about our people,” said Ange. “We’re just praying that we get more events because if we get more events, it helps them. Every event helps them.”
Arnold has been very thankful to Ange and Louisa.
“As Marvin said, before we only ate twice a day, now we can eat up to five times,” he said, laughing.
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