Food allergies can often get in the way of enjoying a treat. And if an allergy were present, a family might just decide to cut out that particular food altogether would look for a second option if their child wanted a specific dessert, rather than work around it by searching for an alternative. For Mark and Rebecca Binstock, however, a food allergy wouldn’t stop them from letting their daughter enjoy cotton candy. In November of 2018, the Binstock family founded Simple Sugar, a cotton candy company that specializes in creating flavorful, local, allergen-friendly alternatives.
Simple Sugar offers a product that is different from other cotton candy because of what isn’t in it, rather than what is. Instead of using a pre-packaged and pre-flavored mix, their cotton candy is made using local fruit and beet sugar. While Mark and Rebecca have found a successful path over their past three years of operating Simple Sugar, their reasoning for beginning is what put them on that path with such ambition.
“We decided to start Simple Sugar in response to our daughter’s food allergies (and our love of cotton candy),” Rebecca Binstock said. “The problem that we would frequently experience — you go to a party or event and a kid cannot partake in treats because of allergies or diet restrictions. Our motivation behind Simple Sugar was to let everyone enjoy something sweet.”
Making and selling cotton candy may sound like a blast from the beginning, but the Binstock’s high standards made the selling point of an “allergen-friendly alternative” easier said than done. “When we started Simple Sugar, we operated out of our basement office—spinning cotton candy after our kids were asleep for the night. We operated under the cottage food act, which limited our ability to sell our cotton candy through e-commerce or wholesale. The cottage food act also limited how we labeled our product, and we couldn’t identify our product as allergen-friendly. This limitation conflicted with our mission,” Binstock said.
Despite not having the resources for a full cotton candy-focused kitchen at the beginning they chose to face the problems their challenges head-on. While it was a major setback, it was also a critical moment for the Binstock’s to leap one step further in their endeavor. The leap of faith that the Binstock family took launched their venture into unknown territory.
Simple Sugar Stands Out
Simple Sugar operates in a kitchen completely free of the top 8 allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans) and uses local fruit to flavor the cotton candy.
“We had to change our process. Our new process had to match our family’s schedule. This meant that we needed to be in a licensed, commercial kitchen without allergens at the same time as our kids were snoozing. We worked with the city of Bismarck and the state health department to build a licensed kitchen in a newly constructed house. This meant we had to sell our current house and rent a temporary home while we built our new home (complete with a licensed kitchen); all during a pandemic,” Binstock continued.
Over the year that it took to build their new home, they moved their family four separate times. This was all done for them to have a compliant and fully-licensed kitchen where they can ensure—and advertise—an allergen-friendly product. Today, their additional kitchen is dedicated strictly to cotton candy, with nothing else being made in the workspace. “It’s very important to us that we can tell our customers exactly what is in the kitchen,” Binstock emphasized.
Offering a product that could be advertised as truly “allergen-free” meant a great deal to the Binstocks, as they were selling to family, friends and other longtime community members. After all, the family has roots in the area long before the beginning of Simple Sugar. Rebecca has deep ties to Bismarck through her childhood, leading her to develop a personal connection with the place she’s proud to call home. Years later, Rebecca thought that she knew the town well enough to the point of starting a business. However, she quickly learned that the business landscape has changed greatly over the years.
“Bismarck has changed a lot since I was a kid. Still, since returning to Bismarck, we have found that it’s very connected,” Binstock said. “It’s still small enough that when you meet someone new, you’re likely to have a friend in common, whether or not you know it yet. Those connections foster business relationships and encourage us all to support local businesses.” local connections.
While the team behind Simple Sugar has managed to keep their circle small, they continue to be adamant about their deep appreciation for their customers and business vendors supporting them. The Binstock’s rely heavily on their community and wordof-mouth, as Simple Sugar’s success depends on healthy business relationships and local connections.
Getting Behind a Good Cause
Simple Sugar supports charities such as BIO Girls, North Dakota’s Gateway to Science, GABR (Great American Bike Race) and many others!
“There are a few business vendors that we couldn’t do our dream job without. The Bis-Man Community Food Coop was the first retail store to sell our cotton candy. We started with the Co-op in December of 2021, and they have been such huge supporters of Simple Sugar and our mission. We love what the Co-op has created for local farmers and producers,” Binstock said. “Second, we couldn’t do what we do and keep it local without our local producers. We use as much local fruit as possible for our cotton candy, so our local farmers and producers are the ones growing the backbone of our product.”
While the Binstock family is seeing success with Simple Sugar across the community through these connections, they admitted that they do have their occasional struggles. Currently, their biggest struggle with operating is time. Simple Sugar is a side venture after business hours to both Mark and Rebecca, as they’re both busy working full-time jobs.
However, Mark and Rebecca were thrilled to announce that they recently hired their first (and only other) employee. This addition to their team should ease the stress of time and allow them to expand in the future. Regardless of the number of hurdles they may have to overcome in the future, they’re not going to let time stop them from pursuing their dream.
“When we started Simple Sugar, we were completely out of our comfort zones. My background is in law and education, and Mark’s background is in engineering. We had never operated a business or even made cotton candy. But, we dug in and figured it out. The process pushed us to learn new skills and grow. In other words, embrace ideas that go beyond your zone of comfort. It is scary, but totally worth it,” Binstock said.
No matter the obstacle that the Binstock family may come across, it’s evident that they’re prepared to overcome any challenge with a smile on their faces. “We are still pretty fresh at this and are constantly in the process of learning from our failures. If we try something and it doesn’t work, we try something new. All the time. However, that’s how we like to grow,” Binstock said. With the growth mindset and positive attitudes that have been present since their first days of business, the Binstock family is prepared to satisfy Bis-Man’s sweet tooth for quite some time.
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