How Sweet It Is

Founders: Brian and Pilar Vocker

Year founded: 2017

Yearly sales: Around $50,000 the first year

Product description: Think classic candy you snuck by the fistful as a kid, often during special occasions—caramel corn during trips to the beach, sweet brittles and bark at Christmas.

Is it profitable?: Breaking even.

Available at: Farmers markets, a newly opened store in Multnomah Village French Quarter, and howsweetitispdx.com

Prices: Vary by product

Brian Vocker was at a crossroads.

He'd just gotten laid off from a job selling insulated water bottles a few months after suffering a much harder loss—his father, who'd long supported his culinary pursuits, had died. But his dad's advice to set out on his own helped him decide, within an hour of unemployment, to start his own business as a confectioner.

Scraping together savings with his wife, Pilar, and money from family, the couple launched How Sweet It Is and debuted their products at their daughter's school bazaar. Vocker has a background as a pastry chef, but he believes his master's degree in the field was earned at an old-school candy company, where he learned how to make chocolate and caramel from scratch with nothing but a copper kettle, a stick and his senses.

"It's all down to feel, timing, touch," Vocker says. "The smell, the look of the product—not necessarily a specific temperature."

Brian and Pilar Vocker
Brian and Pilar Vocker

That's resulted in sweets bound to bring you back to your childhood, which makes sense because the recipes are inspired by the Vockers' upbringings.

For instance, there are the Caramel Corn Clusters lacquered in sugar inspired by those giant canisters of popcorn flavored three ways from Brian's youth. Or the Mama Flor's Midnight Mallows, named after Pilar's grandmother, who loved cajeta—a Mexican goat's milk caramel that's incorporated in their springy handmade marshmallows encrusted in dark chocolate.

Tuck that between two of Brian's Not-Your-Average Graham Crackers (they're like melt-on-the-tongue gingersnaps), zap in the microwave for five seconds, and you've got yourself a next-level s'more.

Guilty pleasure snack: "Kraft Mac & Cheese," says Brian Vocker. "It's always something I had growing up. Whenever my parents would leave, the baby sitter always made it. It's my comfort food." Pilar Vocker, meanwhile, can't get enough of a Mexican marzipan candy: "They're like this peanut candy that melts in your mouth, and I could eat the whole box."