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January 2, 2024 30 mins

On this episode of Our American Stories, Willy Wonka's got nothing on David Klein! David's eccentric personality and peculiar sense of business led him to leave Jelly Belly. He's here to share his story of how he lost his beans, but kept his soul.

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Speaker 1 (00:11):
And we continue with our American stories, and up next
a true story of David Klein, an eccentric candy inventor
from la who's the creator and founder of Jellybelly jelly beans,
my personal favorite candy. Here's David Klein to share the
story of how he lost his beans but kept his soul.

Speaker 2 (00:33):
I was born in Syracuse, New York.

Speaker 3 (00:37):
We left there when I was three and a half
and I remember nothing about it. We came to California.
My dad was the best furniture salesman in the world,
and he knew more about furniture than anybody alive. And

(00:58):
when I was growing up, I worked in a liquor
store that my aunt and grandmother owned. It was in
Van Eyes, right next to a Union seventy six station
that was owned by Joe Punicello and at Poonachello's father.

(01:22):
And in those days, if your family owned the liquor store,
you could work in there. And from the age of
about seven to thirteen, I worked in the liquor store
all during the summer and after school, and I got

(01:43):
quite an experience dealing with the public. I learned how
to count money at the age of seven, make change,
and all the things that I learned there, I wanted
to put into a book one day and the title
of the book would be everything I knew in life.

(02:04):
I learned working in a liquor store, and what happened
was we had a candy section there, and I would
go with my aunt once a week to Smart and Final,
which was one of the wholesale candy places.

Speaker 2 (02:25):
Most of the.

Speaker 3 (02:25):
Candy bars back in those days, I'll see it was
nineteen forty six plus seven six for seven paper, nine
fifty one two, nineteen fifty three, pay for nine fifty
one two, Yeah, nineteen fifty three.

Speaker 2 (02:43):
Uh.

Speaker 3 (02:44):
Smart and Final would display the bars, the candy bars
twenty four in a box, and if there was no shrink,
shrink shrink wrapped on any of the boxes, if you
wanted to taste one of the bars to see if
you like it, you would put a nickel right in

(03:05):
the box.

Speaker 2 (03:08):
And then take a bar out.

Speaker 3 (03:10):
And that way, whoever bought that box would already have
a sale. And it was I made a study of
candy at the starting at the age of seven. I
would study every bar, see where it was made, see
the company who made it, and then go to the library.

(03:33):
I did a study on Standard and Poor's Guide in
the financial reference section, and I would look to see,
for example, Baby Ruth Butterfinger. Those were made in those
days by the Curtis Candy Company. And then I followed

(03:55):
the company when it was acquired by Standard.

Speaker 2 (03:57):
Brands, and then when it was acquired.

Speaker 3 (04:00):
By Nabisco, and through all of the I would learn
the history of every candy bar. When I was in
school and the teacher had to leave the room for
a few minutes, she would ask me, or she or
he would ask me to come up in the front

(04:21):
and talk about candy. And kids would yell out names
at candy bars and I would tell them the history
behind that particular bar. I went to Van Eyes High
in Van Ey's, California. I graduated Van Eyes High with
honors and went to UCLA graduated with a degree in economics,

(04:48):
which is a fantastic major. While I was at UCLA,
I used to sell popcorn. I was in the popcorn
business with my uncle. Where I would go after school,
I had already taken the backseat out.

Speaker 2 (05:02):
Of my car.

Speaker 3 (05:03):
I loaded the car with bags of popped popcorn, and
I was selling those primarily to liquor stores because you
can go into a liquor store till actually two in
the morning. In California, you cannot sell liquor legally after
two in the morning. So I would usually have my

(05:26):
route till about eleven o'clock at night, would go in
all kinds of areas that I really should not have
been in at night, but I was, and nothing ever
happened to me. And then I would go home, and
I'd get up at six seven o'clock in the morning

(05:47):
and go to UCLA. After school, I would go pop
the popcorn in at Water and I really learned.

Speaker 2 (05:58):
About the food business by doing that.

Speaker 3 (06:03):
In order to learn a business, it's I mean, it's
nice to read about it, but unless you really get
in there and get your hands dirty, you really need
to experience the business. Here's what happened in law school.

(06:24):
I always knew that I would never want to be
an attorney. I went there because my parents wanted me to,
and I also went there so that I would have
a legal background if we ever had any illegal problems.
I graduated in the top of my class. When it

(06:46):
came to take the bar, the bar was in two parts.
The first part was in the morning, and then the
second part. It was a true and false test on
a legal responsibility. And I never went back for the

(07:08):
second part. I went to get a haircut instead. I
knew that if I had passed the bar, which I'm
sure I would have, I would have become an attorney.

Speaker 2 (07:22):
And it wasn't for me.

Speaker 3 (07:25):
It wasn't what I personally wanted to do in my life.
And it was almost as if I knew I would
be in the candy business someday. It was almost like
it was there was nothing else for me to do.
I would be in the candy business. And there was

(07:46):
something about candy. I liked the idea that you could
always come up with a new idea, a new creation.
And when I was in the wholesale candy and not business,
one day I came up with the idea of creating
a gourmet jelly bean. I was watching television at age fifteen,

(08:12):
Happy Days. Happy Days was on the air. When I
was talking to a buddy on the phone. We were
talking about new businesses, because I always loved to talk
love to talk about new businesses, and I said, I
think I'm going to open up a candy store and
only sell jelly beans, nothing else, and he said, jelly beans.

Speaker 2 (08:37):
I said, yes, jelly beans.

Speaker 3 (08:40):
No jawbreakers, no gumballs, just jelly beans. And I knew
that if that's what I concentrated on, they would have
to be special jelly beans.

Speaker 2 (08:53):
And that's when the idea started.

Speaker 3 (08:58):
I had eight hundred dollars to my name, no credit
cards back then. The only credit card that was available
was diners Club. The year was nineteen seventy six, and.

Speaker 1 (09:12):
You've been listening to David Klein tell the story well
of jelly Belly, and what a story it is. His father,
as he said, was the best furniture salesman in the world.
He learned so much about life simply working the register
and working in essence at the local family liquor store
where he would buy supplies, buy products and services and goods.

(09:34):
Me learned how to run a business, or be a
part of a business run by a family. When we
come back, we're going to find out what happens next
as one man pursues his dream. David Klein's story, the
story of jelly Belly. Here on our American Stories and

(10:09):
we continue with David Klein's story, and he is the
founder and inventor of jelly belly, and when we last
left off, he had eight hundred dollars to his name,
and he set out to create the world's first gourmet jellybean.
Let's pick up when we last left off, here's David Klein.

Speaker 3 (10:29):
I approached the company that was in Oakland, California. Their
name was Herman Golitz g Oe L t Z, and
I asked them if they would be my contract manufacturer.
And I told him what the idea was, and they said, sure,

(10:51):
let's give it a shot. And in the beginning we
had a very hard time selling the product. Most of
the beans back in those days, our competition they were
selling for about forty nine fifty nine cents a pound,

(11:12):
and that's exactly what I was paying my contract manufacture
fifty nine a pound, but that's what every other bean
was retailing for. I realized that in order to get
the product off the ground, I would have to get
some publicity for it. So one day I called up

(11:35):
the Associated Press talked to a young man by the
name of Steve Fox. He was in charge of the
business section. Associated Press was huge back in those days,
and I realized that they could make or break the product.
I could have started with a local newspaper, but I

(11:59):
figured i'd at the top. I didn't have enough money
to rent a store, so I called on one of
my wholesale customers who I sold walnuts to and almonds
that they put in their ice cream. They had an

(12:20):
ice cream factory at eighteen twenty four West Maine in Alhambra,
and I said to them, you have your medals from
the County fair over in the corner.

Speaker 2 (12:34):
I would like to have that space. This is my
new product.

Speaker 3 (12:37):
It's going to be called Jellybellies, and I would like
to put a little stand in there, which I will
pay for. So he said, okay, how much rent do
you want to pay? And I said, I can't really
pay any rent because I just don't have the funds.
And I said, how about if I pay you a

(12:58):
dollar for every that has sold one dollar, the first
dollar goes to you. He said, well, how much are
they going to sell for? I said two dollars a pound.
I said, I will split whatever comes in. You get
the first dollar, and he said it sounds good.

Speaker 2 (13:20):
So I put the stand in there.

Speaker 3 (13:23):
I had The daughter of one of the men that
own the ice cream parlor was an exceptionally good graphic artist,
and she called me up and said she needed a
project for her art center school. She was at the

(13:46):
College of Art and Design, and she would like to
use jelly Belly as her term paper, and I left
it up to her. She was the one that picked
out the colors and she did the jelly Belly logo
that is still in use today. A young lad came

(14:07):
in one day on a bicycle and he said, I
would like to try one of your strawberry jelly beans.
So I had a little spoon there. I spooned out
one and I said, here, what do you think of it?

(14:29):
And he said, that doesn't taste like strawberry. I said, okay,
what does it taste like? He said that tastes like
cotton candy. And as soon as he left, I had
one of the sign makers there make me a sign
that said cotton candy. And from then on in there

(14:50):
was no strawberry flavor. It was cotton candy. And I
never got a chance to thank that young lad out
there somewhere. The first order of jellybeans that I got
in there were eight flavors. Root beer was one of them.

Speaker 2 (15:13):
I always loved it. Root beer.

Speaker 3 (15:17):
The soda I loved root beer and I love cream soda,
so we had a vanilla one, and instead of calling
it vanilla.

Speaker 2 (15:27):
I named it cream soda.

Speaker 3 (15:30):
I always liked to have creative names to all of
the flavors. Instead of calling one chocolate, it was chocolate pudding.
So I tried to create as many names that were
different just to distinguish them.

Speaker 2 (15:48):
From other products.

Speaker 3 (15:50):
So when I told them what I wanted, I said,
I want to make a miniature jellyban I didn't want
the big one like they used to see in Easter baskets.
And I told them that the beans have to be
flavored on the inside as well as on the outside shell.

(16:14):
That way I could do double flavors. I could do
like chocolate banana and do the outside chocolate and the
inside banana. I told them I wanted a watermelon bean,
and I wanted it green on the outside and red
on the inside. Prior to jelly bellies, every jelly bean

(16:36):
that you used to see used to be white on
the inside because they made only one center, and then
they put the flavor into the shell. If they put
any flavor at all, most jelly beans tasted the same,
except for the black one. The liquorice one, and so

(16:57):
I was really the first one to come up with
the eye idea of flavoring the outside as well as
the inside.

Speaker 2 (17:07):
And that's how jelly Belly got it start.

Speaker 3 (17:11):
And most days we took in about twenty dollars. That
was the average day until the article came out and
the Associated Press, and then I started getting calls from
department stores such as Marshall Fields in Chicago. They said,

(17:32):
we want to buy your beans. I said, we're here
in California. How did you hear about them? Well, it
was just in the Chicago Tribune. It was also in
the Detroit Free Press. It was in the New York Times,
it was in the La Times. The article broke on
the wire and it went everywhere, and the product really

(17:58):
started to take off. It took off to the point
where sales were just incredible. My contract manufacturer actually could
not keep up with the orders. When I initially had
talked to them, I asked them, I said this is

(18:18):
going to be big.

Speaker 2 (18:19):
Guys.

Speaker 3 (18:21):
I said, are you going to be able to keep
up with all the orders? And they said yes. And
I did not realize that they were primarily a small
candy corn manufacturer. In open with about ten employees, and
somehow or another, in my mind, I always picture them
as a larger company. The biggest mistake I ever made

(18:44):
was not flying up there in the beginning to see
what their factory look like, because if I had seen it,
I would have known that they never would have been
able to keep up with production.

Speaker 1 (18:57):
And you're listening to David Klein tell the story of
Jilly Belly, and he's an innovator. No other jelly bean.
I'll eat at jelly Belly, and I don't care how
much more expensive they are. And I know a lot
of you listening feel the same way about your beloved beans.
When we come back more of the story of jelly
Belly here on our American Stories, and we continue with

(19:40):
the story of jelly Belly and its founder, David Klein.
And when we last left off, thanks to Klein's round
the clock promotion, jelly Belly sales skyrocketed, but his contract
manufacturer in Oakland couldn't keep up with the orders. Bline
told us quote, the biggest mistake I ever made was
not flying up there in the beginning to see what

(20:01):
their factory looked like, because if I'd seen it, I
would have known that they would have never been able
to keep up with production. Here's Kleine with the final
installment of his story.

Speaker 3 (20:14):
And then OJ Simpson was on the cover of People magazine,
the issue that I was in, and when my contract
manufacturer saw the picture I had on bathing shorts and
nothing else, he turned to his sales manager and said

(20:37):
that I had blown the whole golden goose, because nobody
would buy a product from somebody that would pose half
naked in a magazine. And so at that point in time,

(20:58):
he instructed his sales manager. They also made candy corn,
and it was made on the same equipment as the jellybeans.
He instructed him, without telling me, to sign as many
contracts as he could, to be selling candy corn at
twenty nine cents a pound just to keep the factory open.

(21:21):
And I was never told that. So here I am
trying to promote an item that I can I'm wondering
why there's no production on.

Speaker 2 (21:32):
And what it did.

Speaker 3 (21:33):
It created a void in the marketplace that other manufacturers
were just happy to fill. One day, I got a
call from the owner of my contract manufacturing company and
he said, we're coming to town, and I said, okay, great,

(21:56):
I'll pick you up at the airport. What airport are
you fling into? And he said it's not going to
be one of those kind of meetings. And I said, well,
what kind of meeting is it? He said, we're coming
to buy your trademark and we're not going to leave
until we do. As soon as I signed the contract

(22:20):
where we were turning the name over to them, we
were driving on Rosemead Boulevard to the bank to get
the contract notarized. And while on the way there, I
was sitting in the back seat. HERM, my contract manufacturer,

(22:43):
was in the front seat, and he turned around and
I said, HERM, I have one question for you.

Speaker 2 (22:53):
If we were not on.

Speaker 3 (22:56):
Our way to the bank to have this contract no notorized,
what would you have done? And he said you really
want to know? I said, yeah, tell me what would
you have done? He said, we would have flown back
to Oakland and on Monday morning we would have shut

(23:17):
off production to you on Jellybellies. We would have cut
you off completely. You would not have any more product.
We know you would have sued us, but by the
time it got to court you would have been broke.
Those were his exact words. I can remember them today

(23:39):
like they were yesterday. We would have cut you off.
In fact, they told me, as we were going to
get it notarized, they had another name already picked out
that he had on the other side of his on
a piece of paper on his lap. He said, you

(23:59):
want to see that name that we would have called it,
and I said sure, and he showed it to me.
I don't remember what that name was, but anyway, they
took over ownership of the name. They paid us seventeen
cents a pound for the first one hundred and twenty

(24:20):
thousand pounds per month royalty maximum. Once the product reached
that level, there was no royalty at all, so we
only got paid on the first one hundred and twenty
thousand pounds at seventeen cents a pound, which came to
twenty thousand dollars per month. I split that with my

(24:44):
partner and then Uncle Sam obviously got his share of it.
And right from the beginning when I sold it was
almost like selling a member of your family, a child
jelly Belly. I spent four years of my life going

(25:08):
around the country promoting the product, being on radio shows,
on talk shows, on television shows at least once a
week and giving interviews in magazines and all kinds of media,

(25:29):
and losing the ownership of it was heartbreaking for me.
The minute they took over, they started packaging the product,
and the prior packaging had my signature on there, mister Jellybelly.
About two months later, I went into a supermarket and

(25:53):
I looked at the package and there was a computer
generated mister Jellybelly instead of mister jelly Belly signature. When
they came out with a book called the thirty Year
History of Jelly Belly's, I was not even mentioned in
that at all, So they pretended that I never existed.

(26:19):
As soon as Colonel Sanders sold out, he was still
Colonel Sanders.

Speaker 2 (26:23):
As soon as I sold out, I was nobody.

Speaker 3 (26:27):
So they basically did what they could to destroy any
knowledge of me having anything to do with the product.
But for many, many years, I just did not have
a good feeling about creating the product. But I've come
to terms with the fact that so many people were

(26:51):
employed by the company. All I can tell you is
it was an experience creating a world a product that's
got about ninety eight percent name recognition, but you have
to recreate yourself. Recently, we got involved in the CBD

(27:18):
jellybean business. We are making jellybeans with CBD in them
ten milligrams per bean. So right now, back into the
jellybean business after all these years. Last year, around September,

(27:40):
we started a new venture. It's called the Gold Ticket
dot Com. It's a nationwide treasure hunt. We hide a
gold necklace in fifty states, different areas, obviously, and we

(28:02):
give clues riddles. We give a riddle so that they
know where it is. The winner for each of the
fifty contests receive five thousand dollars. All states were claimed,
and we receive so much positive feedback on that because

(28:23):
while COVID was going on, people didn't have too many
activities that they could go to. This they could pile
everybody into a car and travel all together and it
was extremely successful. So it was so successful that we're
doing another round of that same activity. So we're very

(28:46):
happy doing that and we feel like we're doing something
really good for the world. And the one documentary that's
out there now, it's shown on Amazon and you can
watch it if you're an Amazon member for free, and

(29:07):
it's been seen all over the world. It's called Candy Man,
The David Klein's Story. My son and his wife and
Costa Botez collaborated on it. They made it into a
very good, very great documentary in my opinion that will

(29:28):
stand the test at times. So that brings us up
to date. And I love being in a business where
you feel that you can help people.

Speaker 2 (29:45):
This is America.

Speaker 3 (29:46):
If you come up with a good idea, you can
run with that idea.

Speaker 2 (29:53):
Make them happy. That's the whole idea behind it.

Speaker 1 (29:59):
And job on that piece by Greg and a special
thanks to David Klein for telling his story. David Kleine's
story the story of Jelly Belly here on our American
Stories
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