Honey is the first scent that tingles your senses after you light the candle and inhale. After that, it’s caramelized sugar, a wave of citrus and a touch of cinnamon, even clove. From there, your brain does the rest of the work, associating the flood of scents in the air with their intended target: your memories of warm, honey-covered sopaipillas at Casa Bonita.
The sopaipilla-scented candles are one of the quirky but creative additions to the new gift shop at the singular restaurant, but they aren’t some afterthought. Each one is hand-produced in Denver by Wooly Wax, a custom candle shop owned by Rachel Woolcott.
And Woolcott isn’t just any candle maker. She’s the longtime Denver and Boulder chef behind Aix, a French bistro that found its niche along 17th Avenue’s restaurant row from 2001 to 2009.
Which is good, since eating the sopaipillas is an essential part of the Casa Bonita experience for tens of thousands of Coloradans, including Woolcott.
“Scent and taste are very, very similar in the way they are formulated and created. They go to the same part of the brain and they both evoke memory,” said Woolcott, who founded Wooly Wax, at 4424 Tennyson St., in 2015. “So I tapped into my 25-year career and my background as a chef in order to break it down in the same way that you would build a recipe.
Casa Bonita’s marketing staff contacted Woolcott first, but she’s known the eatery’s high-profile chef, Dana Rodriguez, for years because of their work in the restaurant industry – something Woolcott says helped them communicate better when she toured the pink palace in April.
“I went to Casa Bonita, and Dana talked me through the recipe and what was important to her,” she explained. “When she speaks, I know what she is saying because I have been cooking for a long time. We have the same understanding of palate. We speak the same language.”
After that, Woolcott went to work, and after a few rounds of tweaks – “adding some of this and a little less of that,” she said – they came up with a version of the candle that they both loved.
Rodriguez, in an email to The Denver Post, said she feels like the candle “captures the essence” of the sopaipillas “so perfectly that you will feel like you’re back in its plaza.”
To make her candles, Woolcott relies on her experience cooking to put ingredients together, but she’s also careful about her process and ingredients. The candles are hand-poured in small batches and she and her staff of three use only natural soy wax and distill their own aromatic oils. Although Woolcott said she misses the restaurant industry sometimes, making candles allows her to play with ingredients in the same way that being a chef did.
Many of her candles are sold in stores like Whole Foods and Leever’s Locavore, as well as from her shop and online. They include scents like San Francisco Fog, which brings out cedar wood, eucalyptus and salt water, and Mile High, which brings out Ponderosa pine scents.
She also makes custom candles for companies like Laws Whiskey House, which the Wooly Wax website says has notes of “charred white oak, leather, caramel and tobacco,” and Ikea. That last one was supposed to smell like the furniture store’s famed Swedish meatballs (although Woolcott said she probably won’t be making any more meat-smelling candles in the future).
All of that work means the candles aren’t cheap. Casa Bonita’s eight-ounce candle costs $27.95 in the gift shop, and Woolcott said most of her other candles are $26 or $27.
“Supplies are expensive, jars and lids are expensive. These are hand-crafted. We cut our own wicks, wipe and clean the jars,” she said. “I look at them as an affordable luxury, because one candle can last weeks or months. … I feel like you get a lot for it.”
The people shopping at Casa Bonita’s gift shop don’t seem to mind the price, though: Woolcott said the restaurant just put in a big new order for more.
In fact, they are one of the store’s “most popular” sellers, according to Rodriguez.
“It is special to me, and special to be a part of this,” added Woolcott, who celebrated there with friends a number of years ago. “It’s part of my history, too.”
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