Startups

Why The World Needs Artisanal Marshmallows

If one were trying to come up with the most millennial-sounding product imaginable, it would be hard to do much better than an artisanal marshmallow. It’s so millennial-sounding, in fact, that it could almost pass for a derogatory euphemism for those born during the last two decades of the 20th century — the artisanal marshmallow can do much of the same heavy-lifting as that special snowflake.

For two entrepreneurs in in Chicago, the artisanal marshmallow is not a concept, but a reality they’ve invested in heavily, perfecting and bringing to the world. And, for the brand’s increasingly avid fans attest, the artisanal marshmallow is not a joke: It is an innovation the world was waiting for but did expect.

The brand is XO Marshmallow, the brainchild of Kat Connor and Lindzi Shanks. Neither Connor nor Shanks had initially dreamed of being confectioners — Conner was studying to become an attorney and Shanks was on pace to become a psychology professor. However, while studying, both found their actual passions, which were not in law or psychology.

A New Innovative Dream

Shanks discovered instead that her passion was online commerce and lifestyle blogging. Connor — while making Christmas presents for friends and family in law school to save money — discovered she had a genuine talent for making delicious marshmallows.

“Everyone was like, ‘You have to do something with this,'” Connor said. “Since I had been working so hard … I thought, why not … experiment with these marshmallows a little bit and see where it goes.”

Where it went was meeting Shanks, then joining her to create something the world had not seen before — a gourmet marshmallow business online. After its debut on the web in early 2016, the duo made an even bigger step forward. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, XO Marshmallow jumped off the web and onto a physical street in Chicago.

Though it is a matter of some debate whether it is the first marshmallow cafe in the world, the business has certainly made an eye-catching entrance into the market. Designed around what its owners described to DNAinfo as a “Wonderland aesthetic,” the brand is lots of soft lights, light pink, inspirational quotes and pillows — lots of pillows, as befits a marshmallow shop.

“For us the Wonderland is this really whimsical space we’ve created for people to come in and have a really good time,” Shanks said. “The way I see it is  let’s say it’s February and it’s been snowing, and you’re having a really terrible day. The idea is you can come in here to the cafe and Wonderland, and just not help but have a smile on your face.”

All The Fun Flavors

Whether or not the store will appeal, of course, depends on how much one likes marshmallows and how adventurous one wants to be about eating them. As is the case in their shop online, the marshmallows on offer are a bit more flavorful than the sweet cylinders one might remember from their campfire days.

Champagne, Nutella, coffee, raspberry and bourbon are just some of the flavors on offer — and they are served in a variety of ways. There is the traditional S’more of course, but also the S’maco (three marshmallows stuffed into a waffle cone taco shell and drizzled with chocolate) or the OMG Waffle Cones, which combines homemade marshmallow fluff into a chocolate-dipped cone and is topped with sprinkles. There is also the Donut S’more Squish, a rounded donut-like marshmallow put in between two cookies and decorated to look like a donut.

XO Marshmallow also sells drinks. Standard cafe offerings of coffee, tea and lattes, as well as some house favorites, like a dark roast cold brew laced with S’mores toppings or a Toasted Marshmallow Latte.

A Place For Marshmallow Fans

It’s really a place for marshmallows lovers. And, though it seems like a long shot, it is a business built from the ground up — bootstrapped from, found and carried forward by popularity and the power of a well-used Kickstarter campaign. And the fans are, well, avid.

“Butterbeer Marshmallows exist and they’re the most magical fall sweet treats,” Refinery29 wrote last fall of the Harry Potter-inspired flavor of October. That was the first time the Refinery29 team had their lives changed by marshmallows, but it wasn’t the last. Just a few weeks ago, the team was singing the praises of the Rose Marshmallow, despite the fact that, from the outset, they were pretty sure a wine-flavored marshmallow with gold, edible glitter was probably a bad idea.

However, in spite of  or perhaps because of  their rather unconventional idea, XO Marshmallow keeps on selling and growing.

What’s next on the menu — and will your city soon have its own marshmallow cafe of its own? Probably not in the very near future, as XO has announced no physical expansion plans of yet. But, historically, they’ve been a fast-moving brand. It might be best to keep your eyes open. Who knows when you can get a S’more taco all your own?

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