Photography by Ivory Cotton Bar.

A few years ago, I found myself on a date at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. After a couple hours of fawning over tiny goats and fuzzy alpacas and petting a variety of differently-haired rabbits, we wandered into the giant food hall. Nostalgia overtook my desire for nutrition when I spotted the cotton candy. As I stuffed a little pink cloud of sugar in my mouth, I remembered the unique sensation of having it instantly melt and disintegrate into nothing. I was giddy!

It’s that giddiness and nostalgia that entrepreneur Teneal Ivery tapped into when creating her business, Ivory Cotton Bar. She explains, “I liked the idea of a product that lights up people’s faces with nostalgia and childhood memories. I had recently lost my grandmother and wanted to do something meaningful with my time.  Cotton candy seemed like a good way for me to get my feet wet in business due to the low start-up cost and simplicity of the product.”

Ivery had dreamed of owning a business from a young age, but it wasn’t very common in her family, partially because it was a riskier thing to do. After getting her MBA, she began to seriously consider her options. She recalls, “I told myself I could do this, but I didn’t tell anyone about my plans beforehand because I knew I would face some level of hesitation and second-guess myself.” Being an entrepreneur was new for Ivery, but her natural instincts, her passion for creating, and her keen interest in micro-and macro-economics helped put her on the path for sweet success. Her pop-up at a local farmers market in Nashville, Tennessee, was so well received, the business quickly grew.

A Nashville Novelty

Speaking of the Music City, this place played a crucial role in the history of cotton candy when dentist William Morrison and candymaker John C. Wharton invented machine-spun cotton candy there in 1897. They first introduced the Fairy Floss to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair with great success, selling 68,655 boxes at twenty-five cents per box (the equivalent of $7.31 nowadays). However, the history of spun sugar actually goes all the way back to fifteenth-century Venice, where pastry chefs would caramelize sugar and use forks to drizzle
the hot syrup onto a broom handle and mold the resulting threads into magnificent creations. At the time, sugar was a rarity and considered a treat for only the wealthy.

Cotton candy as we know it today didn’t come into existence until the Industrial Revolution brought the aforementioned Morrison and Wharton together. They concocted a machine that had an electric heating element at the base of a funnel-shaped dish that would melt the sugar. Centrifugal forces would push the hot syrup through tiny holes in the funnel while an outer bowl contained the spun sugar. Because the process was lickety-split fast, the melted sugar didn’t have time to recrystallize.

All aboard the flavor train

Pink was the standard color and flavor, but modern cotton candy has leveled up. Ivery began with a few flavors that she ordered online, but she wanted to have fun and make her product stand out. Using organic cane sugar and natural flavorings and colorings was also important to Ivery. She began making her own flavors, like Maple Bacon and Sea Salted Caramel. Those are a couple of crowd-pleasers, among other favorites like Strawberry Lemonade, Orange Cream Sorbet, Cinnamon Roll, Peach Cobbler, Banana Pudding, Red Velvet, and Unicorn.

With innovative flavors on the menu, Ivory Cotton Bar quickly branched out into the large-scale event sector, with gigs at E! People’s Choice Awards, LinkedIn, Tennessee Titans games, and the CMAs. A local carpenter was commissioned to build custom carts that can be easily transported in an SUV or sedan. Providing such a timeless treat in creative ways makes the business both joyful and meaningful to Ivery: “My favorite kind of day is spinning cones outside at a festival or wedding on a clear day in the perfect humidity and temperature.” When asked who gets more excited about cotton candy, she laughs and reveals that “it’s a good mixture. Kids go crazy and adults try to hold their composure.”

Ivory Cotton Bar cotton candy can also be found in several local stores as well as online. Ivery is busy working toward an increased online presence, more shelf space in larger stores, and even a food truck. Her team is made up of five women who value teamwork, good customer service, consistency, quality products, and a family-like atmosphere. Ivery recalls her own insecurities as a first-time business owner and has this advice for young entrepreneurs: “Just do it! Don’t hesitate. Don’t waste time with all the reasons not to start. Instead, focus on the reasons to start.”

I am aware this is not what she meant, but I turned Ivery’s advice into an excuse to start eating cotton candy, ordering a few containers of the ethereal sugary treat, including a flavor called Purple Rain. (Shout-out to the late Prince.) It just goes to show Ivory Cotton Bar has something for both the young and the young at heart.

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