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This Austin couple's love story is so sweet, they started a candy company in Mexico

Eric Webb
Austin 360

Here’s a sweet story.  

Romance and sugar go hand in sticky hand. In Austin, couples created some of our favorite treats; look at Tiffany and Leon Chen of Tiff’s Treats and Luis Gramajo and Hans Schrei of Wunderkeks. But instead of cookies, Jack Bessudo and Declan Simmons craft candy. 

The couple created Tamalitoz by Sugarox, a striped hard candy with a fruity outside and a tangy chile lime kick inside. Flavors range from those typical to an American candy shelf — cherry and green apple — to some inspired by classic Mexican confections. Shoppers can find Tamalitoz in stores like H-E-B, Royal Blue Grocery and Big Top Candy Shop. 

Tamalitoz got their name for their resemblance to little tamales.

Bessudo is originally from Mexico, and Simmons is from England. The married couple started Sugarox Candy Studio, the parent of Tamalitoz, in Mexico City. They operated stores where customers could watch candy-making demonstrations. Sugarox originally sold something similar to English-style rock candy. Bessudo describes it as a candy cane without a hook and with a design running though the middle. Their version was chopped into bite-size pieces.  

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Looking to expand into the U.S., Bessudo and Simmons launched the new Tamalitoz line and eventually followed their sweet idea to Austin in November 2019. (The Sugarox stores in Mexico closed due to the pandemic, Simmons says. The Tamalitoz candies are produced in Tijuana but the business is based stateside.) 

The couple describe Bessudo as the creative one – your bag of Tamalitoz might bear his watercolor design – and Simmons as the numbers guy.

“It's like having a baby. It's like we gave birth to a to a candy business,” Simmons says. 

“There's no one else that I could do this with,” Bessudo says. 

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we caught up with Bessudo and Simmons about their candy creation and what it’s like to settle down in the capital of Texas. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

On how they met 

Declan Simmons: We met just before all of this craziness for candy started. I was still living in London. Jack was living in Mexico. We met through a friend who introduced us, and so I came to Mexico to meet Jack. Long story short, two years later, we got married, which was like 10 years ago.  

Declan Simmons and Jack Bessudo have been married for about a decade. Together, they run an Austin-based candy company producing Tamalitoz.

When we first met, Jack was well into the idea of making a candy store. I left England to come to Mexico to help him operate the business. Do we look back on it and think we were crazy? Yes. I mean, he came from marketing. I had my own business in the U.K.; I had a vehicle disposal company. … Then I met Jack, and the rest is history. 

On how they got into the candy biz 

Jack Bessudo: When we opened the candy store, my vision was to take this old-school candy-making technique and give it a little bit of a Mexican twist. Because we were in Mexico City, we've got tons of candy culture down there. I wanted to Mexicanize this grandma-style, old-fashioned candy.  

I had to learn how to make candy. I got in touch with this guy that worked in this candy store in Sydney. That store had the concept that I was looking for: You go in, and you'd see them making the candy. It was all small-batch. And the recipe is basically the same recipe. It's been used in candy-making for the past 200 years. It's just water, corn syrup, flavoring, citric acid. It's very simple. … I brought this guy from Australia to Mexico, and he taught me how to make the candies. … 

I love cooking. I'm always in the kitchen. But I never experimented with candy. And honestly, if I would have, I probably would not have chosen to get into the candy business, because candy is hard. (laughs) 

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On how they came up with Tamalitoz 

Simmons: We also used to make candy we used to call the pillows. That would basically be just like a little pillow of candy with chile, lime and sea salt in the middle. We'd make that (in the store) with people watching, so people could actually have warm candy.  

Bessudo: It also turned out that that candy was a lot easier to make, because you didn't have to worry about the design in the center. But it was also the candy that people love the most.  

Simmons: It was by far our best seller. I mean, back then we used to sell the watermelon one, and we occasionally dabbled in other flavors and put the chile inside. But one day, a lady came into the store, and she was watching us make what was to become Tamalitoz. She said, "Oh my god, these are like little tamales.” Well, at that stage, that was the eureka moment. 

Bessudo: I think she actually said, "Paracen tamalitos,” they look like tamalitos, little tiny tamales.  

Simmons: We had been looking for something to sort of expand the Sugarox name into the U.S. … That's when the Tamalitoz line was born. 

Bessudo: We launched with four flavors, the most traditional Mexican candy flavors. We had the watermelon, the mango, the cucumber — that was sort of different for everyone; I don't think anyone had really tried cucumber candy before — and tamarind, which in Mexico, that's like the staple flavor. Tamarindo con chile, that's the most Mexican flavor.  

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Simmons: One of the things that I love about Mexico is you can go to anywhere, any street corner in Mexico, or any market, and you can buy a big bowl of fruit that's freshly cut in front of you, in front of your eyes. And they sprinkle chile, lime and sea salt powder on it. It's absolutely delicious. 

Bessudo: Yes, so I really wanted the flavor to resemble more that flavor, than the flavor of Mexican candy. I don't know if that that makes sense. You know, I just wanted to do this more natural. I also knew that our biggest differentiator was going to be the quality. ... 

Mexicans that live in the States love their Mexican candy, and I was not going to be able to compete with that. ... (Tamalitoz) was a gateway into Mexican candy for anyone that might not have tried it. 

Simmons: Like a hybrid, really. I think that's what we were going for. 

Bessudo: It is a hybrid, in between old-fashioned European candy and Mexican flavors. 

Tamalitoz by Sugarox come in fruit flavors, and the inside contains chile, lime and sea salt.

On a fateful visit to Austin 

Simmons: It was really strange. Within two or three hours of arriving in Austin (a few years ago), we both looked at each other, and we said, “Wow, if ever we moved to the U.S., we've got to move here.” I remember the time we did that, we were actually walking down Congress, and we met a friend here. We were walking around, and it just felt right. It just felt that this was a place that we wanted to be. But of course, it was then just a pipe dream, because we were still living in Mexico. We have business down there. 

On relocating after getting their U.S. business up and running 

Simmons: We then decided that we needed to be where the action was. Because over here, it's a lot busier than what's going on in Mexico. We applied for the visa. Based on the business, we got the visa very quickly, thankfully. We moved to Austin, moved into our first apartment here, sight unseen.  

What’s next? 

Bessudo: We want to keep on developing new types of candy under the Sugarox brand. We want Sugarox, the company to grow. Honestly, I'd love to open one of the stores like we had down in Mexico, the Sugarox Candy Studio. That would be a dream. … 

We're super excited to have Tamalitoz form part of the Austin landscape. Austin is a sweet city, and it's a spicy city. It just makes perfect sense for Tamalitoz to call it home.

Where to find Tamalitoz

Go to to find a store near you that sells the candy.