Meet the Detroit Startup Churning Out ‘Adult’ Cotton Candy

Spun Sugar puts spiked and sophisticated spins on the childhood favorite
Fun Fact! Spun Sugar Detroit Co-Owners Megan Young and Mandy Tamborini are Identical Twins.

The first week of May, gray clouds LOOM and spring showers are in the air. Co-owner of Spun Sugar Detroit, Mandy Tamborini, is talking about a summer staple: cotton candy. Bleach-blonde hair grazes her shoulders and pale pink lipstick frames a cheerful smile as she arranges containers crammed with fluffy, pastel-colored confections.

Spun Sugar Detroit was born of brighter days than the one that Tamborini and I met on. On a 2016 business trip to Venice Beach, Calif., she struck up a conversation with an organic cotton candy vendor. “I thought, ‘Organic cotton candy?’ No one in Michigan’s doing that.”

Then a sales professional and producer at a marketing company in Farmington Hills, the Livonia native began building the infrastructure for Spun Sugar Detroit as a side hustle. Tamborini began research on organic sugars, which she found were largely manufactured in California. “Before heading home, I took a trip to a few factories, then came back to Michigan and started branding the company.”

Tamborini’s background is evident with the emphasis placed on branding. She set out to create a vibrant but polished aesthetic, which manifests in the form of a pastel color scheme across Spun Sugar Detroit’s platforms with wisps of cotton integrated throughout. Imagery of celebratory essentials such as confetti, sprinkles, and balloons dominate the brand’s social media feeds. Tamborini envisions a Spun Sugar employee dress code. “I essentially want a candy hop look. Nothing too crazy because cotton candy is so messy, but a cute candy look.”

“Being in the advertising industry … everything is your brand. People are going to your website; they’re searching for you on social media. They want to find you.” Within six months, clients found Tamborini, booking the cotton candy cart for private events hosted by the Ford family and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where she encountered Instagram influencers like Kate Lazarski and Marina Pia Goldi. “Instagram is my jam,” Tamborini says, adding that today, nearly all of Spun Sugar Detroit’s business is driven by social media (@spunsugar.detroit).

“With cotton candy, I’m able to give away happiness. Everybody needs happiness.”
— Mandy Tamborini

Every entrepreneur has likely thought, “I wish there were two of me.” A clone that could manage day-to-day tasks while the founder handles the bigger picture elements of a startup. In that regard, Tamborini has an advantage. As one of a set of identical twins — “We’re mirror twins! I’m left-handed and she’s right handed,” she says — tapping her other half, Megan Young, to co-own the business was a must. “Megan’s background is in master gardening, so this is a change for her, but I thought it would provide a lot of happiness.”

To create a grown-up version of their childhood favorite, Tamborini and Young confer on unexpected flavor profiles. A departure from the standard amusement park varieties, Spun Sugar’s menu has spiked versions like Strawberry and Blueberry Champagne, as well as sophisticated selections like Honey Lavender and Ginger Peach. I sample the Mango Chili — hell, I devour the Mango Chili, the sweet spice inducing a light sweat.

Pastel Palate: Spun Sugar’s color schemes look familiar, but come in grown-up Flavors such as blueberry champagne, Rock n Rye, Mango Chili, and Cake.

Perhaps I allowed myself to consume an entire container of cotton candy for its seemingly healthy implications. Tamborini and Young are trying to source organic, plant-based dyes from California as well as ingredients like organic honey from Detroit-based Bees in the D. “It’s cotton candy so I recognize that it’s still sugar,” Tamborini says as a disclaimer. “I just think that the plant-based ingredients make it a cleaner product than traditional cotton candy, which has artificial dyes.”  Tamborini says the organic formula is lighter and not as sticky as cotton candy made with artificial dyes. To my untrained taste buds, they’re equally tasty.

Today, Spun Sugar Detroit is made in a candy land of a space known as the Proud Mitten Shared Kitchen. The Plymouth-based commercial kitchen is home to local bakeries, cookie shops, and pastry chefs including Darla & Francine’s Cookie Table, Peach & Honey, Two Dolls Bakery, and more. “It’s very fun collaborating around town,” Tamborini says, mentioning that after our meeting, she’d be dropping off a batch of rainbow cotton candy at the new Erskine Street bakery, For the Love of Sugar. She also shared that her confections would be featured in local burger joint Famous Hamburgers’ best-selling milkshake for the second summer in a row, as well as in promotional imagery for an upcoming cotton candy-flavored beverage for New Order Coffee Roasters — the very café that we were seated in.

Despite my umbrella hanging on the back of the chair beside me and the rain an arm’s length away, Tamborini managed to brighten the day with both a dose of sugar and a bubbly personality. “With cotton candy, I’m able to give away happiness. Everybody needs happiness.”

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