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Stephen Traino of Candy Direct doesn't eat many sweets these days

The venerable Bit-O-Honey, Abba-Zaba, Nut Goodie, Look! Bar, and Charleston Chew

Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront. - Image by Derek  Plank
Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront.

"I was crossing the street in my old hometown of Fairport, New York, to get some candy," Stephen Traino admits, "and the next thing I knew, this car almost hit me because I wasn't even looking where I was going. That would be the only reason I was in that part of town. Just to get candy."

"I heard about a woman who's suing some candy company for rotting her kids' teeth."

We're talking at a fold-up card table in the impromptu conference room of a warehouse in National City. Every month, several thousand pounds of sweets pass through here, the hub of Traino's Internet business venture, Candy Direct. Traino has been regaling me for over an hour about his two great loves: business and candy.

"The guy in the car swerved, and he stopped and got mad at me, and he yelled." Traino speaks fast, as if in hot pursuit of his own thoughts. He sports a five o'clock shadow, though it's only 11 a.m. His eyes are wide and roundly brown. "You know, I'm glad the guy got mad at me. I thought he was a jerk at the time, and I was just a little kid." Traino's arms jump and wave in counterpoint to his words, and I can't help but get spurred by his enthusiasm. "You look both ways before you cross the street. I learned that lesson because of candy."

Stephen Traino: "I have this red Sentra. it's still parked out there in the street, my old car. I'd throw all my boxes in there, and I'd drive it to the post office, and I literally couldn't see out of my window."

Stephen Traino runs a candy business, yes, but calling him a businessman doesn't seem right: he's a Candy Man, a modern day Willie Wonka. Candy Direct's website gives the impression of offering most every confection ever made (which is almost true). Traino takes a rainbow, wraps it in a sigh, soaks it in the sun and makes a groovy lemon pie. While he's at it, he looks both ways and runs a fine business.

"I love candy," Traino explains, savoring the "o" in "love" as if it were one of his sugary confections. "When I was a kid, we'd ride our bikes for no other reason: just to look for candy. One store we went to was called Clausen's. We'd go through this thing called The Trolley Bed, where the old trolleys used to go through. It was just this big, dirt path, you know, but we'd call it The Trolley Bed.

I watch a driver in a white Jelly Belly truck pull up and unload Dragon Fire, Money Licorice, Pop Shot Baseball Bats, and Candy Love Beads Jewelry Kits. Three members of Traino's staff pack PayDays, Jolly Ranchers, Super Starlites and Wack-o-Wax into boxes.

We'd go down on our bikes, going over the rocks." His voice trails off, he seems far away for a moment, wistfully pedaling into his candied past. Then he starts up again in a friendly upstate-New York accent, his excitement building, the arms waving like a conductor's. "We'd take a left at this road, and go on a few more miles to the store. And when we got there we'd spend probably fifteen or twenty minutes looking at candies, maybe more. I remember they used to make this big long candy bar called the Marathon Bar — they don't make it anymore, discontinued in 1983 — and it had a little ruler on it, so you could see how long it was in inches, and it was twirly, and I remember going to this store just to get that candy bar."

Traino is so unguarded as he tells me about these candies past, so ingenuous with his details, that I find it difficult to believe this childlike fellow sitting before me cuts shrewd business deals.

"Another time, my brother told me, 'stop by Northside,' because that was a store where they had this thing called Bottle Caps. They still make these, but they used to be in these big packages. Now they come in kind of small packages." Traino is sweetest on nostalgic candies. The Candy Direct website revisits such venerable bonbons as Bit-O-Honey, Abba-Zaba, Nut Goodie, Look! Bar, and Charleston Chew. Traino's got the Golden Ticket to most every new and old confection imaginable. He's on a roll now, and I'm starting to get hungry.


Let me confess, before this goes any further, that when it comes to sugar, I am a regular user. I lose control when faced with the temptations of Sweet. Candy comforts, at least until conscience kicks in. Many sorrows have I buried beneath ice cream, chocolate, and sugary treats of all sorts. At times I believe that glutting my body can lighten my soul. At least -- or so I tell myself -- the demons of candy aren't too destructive.

What is it about sweetness? What does it do in mind and mouth that we love it so? Is this a foolish question? One may as well ask why harmonious sounds soothe while dissonant ones grate. Why do some colors pacify, while others incite? When we say someone is sweet, we mean they are kind; we mean they exercise compassion. Does sugar somehow care for our well-being? And if so, then how can it possibly be bad for us? (Ah, so much like love.) I taste irony in the fact that sweet flavors are picked up by buds on the front of the tongue, yet when I can't think of a word, when the word is right there, right on this tongue tip of mine, then that frustrated feeling doesn't register as very sweet.

The history of candy dates back thousands of years -- at least as far back as the Egyptians, who gorged themselves on treats made from fruit and nuts in honey. Making candy is pretty simple: you dissolve sugar in water. The amount of heat applied to the mixture determines the type of candy produced: hot temperatures make hard candy, moderate heat makes soft candy, and cool temperatures make chewy candy. According to one source, the average American consumes more than 25 pounds of confectionery per year. And Stephen Traino is responsible for moving literally tons of the stuff. What kind of man gets to do this for a living?


Traino, now 35, is a born entrepreneur. He has sold frozen yogurt, bathtubs, Xeroxes, and even, as a youngster, junk from out of his own garage.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've been really good at creating new business ideas," he says. "It's like second nature for me. I just always think of business ideas. And I'm always scatterbrained, trying all these different ideas." But he knows a good thing when he sees it, and when the Internet came along he was inspired to twin his two loves, candy and e-business, into one strong braid.

"I came up with Candy Direct just by looking around," he declares. "I was wondering, you know, what has no one else done? Well, books is being done, CDs and music's being done, travel's being done."

Traino grew up near Lake Ontario and attended college in Plattsburg, New York, just south of Montreal. He studied business, but not the way most people study business. He found accounting impossibly dull, and was frustrated when he realized that they don't teach numbers in marketing class. So he got permission from his professors to create his own major and design a unique course of study.

After graduating, Traino stayed in Plattsburg and worked for a company that imported bathtubs from a franchise up in Canada. The bathtub business wasn't so great, though, because Traino wanted to be a franchisee himself. He started interning for a consulting company at the same time, helping Canadian executives earn green cards so they could start businesses in the United States.

Eventually, Traino tried his hand at running a frozen-yogurt company. When that business failed, he moved back in with his parents for six or seven months. He was 23, and like any driven, young entrepreneur, he was looking to start his own enterprise. The only problem was that he didn't have much money. "I decided to move out to California," he states. "You know, 'Go west, young man.'"

He landed in Santa Ana, in Orange County, and worked for Xerox for about a year and a half but he hated it. "Good people, and they really wanted to improve the company, but it was just too rigid, too rigorous, and you know, too much politics and all that crap." The next company he worked for, Realm Internet Systems, also went belly-up, but while there he gained a fluency with the Internet that would serve him well down the road.

"That was a good job, but the boss just really didn't get along with people very well. I understood him, but a lot of people didn't. He did give me latitude, and I liked that, and I was learning from entrepreneurs who were smarter than I am."

Traino is grateful to have had mentors, but he now knows that he can only work for himself. "It's the old cliché: you work for yourself, you make your own hours, and it's true to an extent. I don't have to take orders from anyone. I can't take orders."

Independence aside, why do people start their own businesses?

"So you can make money, and support your family, and pursue the dream of getting rich, which is very rare, very rare in small business."

For all his apparent ambition, Traino is partial to underdogs.

"You know, you read a hundred articles of successful people, and there are probably a thousand more people who weren't successful. Whenever I read an article about a small business owner, I want to know about the first million. How did they make their first million? Who cares about Lee Iacocca, and what's-his-name from General Electric? They always want to interview these guys when they're already successful. But the question is, how do you get that first million? That is the hardest thing."

Traino breaks down the numbers and makes being a millionaire sound like a burden.

"Even if you make a million dollars in your company, or two million dollars in your company, you get taxed. You get taxed like 40 or 50 percent. You know, you have 35 or 40 percent federal, and then 9 percent state. You know, and I'm not going to get into politics or anything like that, I'm just saying you get taxed. So how do you become a millionaire? It's very hard to do. You need a really good idea. So I take an interest in how the successful people made their first million, and how the unsuccessful ones failed, and I try to learn from their risks and their mistakes."

Candy Direct was a really good idea, and it started small in 1996. "Out of my apartment, actually." Traino smiles sheepishly. Trucks would back up to his apartment to make deliveries and pickups before he had saved enough to move into a small office. Later, he opened a store in the Mission Gorge area, where he refined his concept before he finally settled here in National City about a year and a half ago. "And that's where we're at."

Traino is humble when he describes how he negotiated those first deals with the giant candy companies. "We had an arrangement with several suppliers in Southern California who would supply us."

We? Wasn't he the only employee?

"Oh," he says. "You know, we, yeah, that's a good question. You know, why do you say 'we'? I always talk that way. I like talking in 'we's' because, you know, it's our company, it's a business. But I guess you're right, it wasn't 'we,' it was me." He laughs, and then continues.

"I think my first employee was hired in '99, so it was about a year and a half, two years, where it was just me, and I'd take all the pictures, I'd do all the customer service, I'd do all the accounting.

"We started buying from all these distributors," (that odd royal we was back, but I let him be) "and then what you start doing is you start buying direct, because then you've got more clout and money. So we started buying direct, from Nestlé, from Hershey's, from Necco.

"We started with $500, maybe. It was nothing. But there was no one doing it at the time. I mean, there were a few small candy stores, but they weren't doing it seriously. But you have to build slowly. You always hear about the dot-com entrepreneurs, but you never hear about the little guys starting out. You have to stick with it. And it's depressing, for the first couple of years."

This year, the gross sales at Candy Direct have topped $2 million. He calls himself "an employee of the business," but he's also the chief operating officer, so he makes all the decisions, including the matter of his own salary. "But I pretty much reinvest all my money back into the business," he says, "because I want to grow. I want to keep building this thing into a bigger business. I want to have multiple locations; I want to maybe start stores, or start franchise stores. I've got all kinds of ideas."

Candy Direct is a success, but I wonder whether a man with such a restless temperament can be satisfied. "At first I said I wanted to be a millionaire at 30. And then I said I wanted to be a millionaire at 35. Well, now I'm 35, and I'm not a millionaire. So my goal now is to be healthy and happy, and money is just a tool to be happy. But, you know, we're all going to die. We're all going to become dust. Seriously. We're just here for a short time, not to get into religion or anything, but we're all the same, and we're all going to die and become dust. But in the meantime, I enjoy creating new things. I enjoy creating businesses. I'd do it just for fun. I guess it's always just still my goal: to be an entrepreneur. You know, you read where people retire and they go away to the islands for six months, and then they come back, and they start another business. That's just it. That's what we are. That's what I am. I am an entrepreneur. Other people are writers. Other people are actors. But that's just what I do. I create businesses."


Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront. Through the narrow entryway where I've been interviewing Traino, the candy-crammed fan-cooled warehouse opens out in back. The storage space is small, perhaps 1,000 square feet. Upstairs is an office stuffed with computers and telephones and snaking wires.

A portable stereo softly plays 91X while I watch a driver in a white Jelly Belly truck pull up and unload Dragon Fire, Money Licorice, Pop Shot Baseball Bats, and Candy Love Beads Jewelry Kits. Three members of Traino's staff pack PayDays, Jolly Ranchers, Super Starlites and Wack-o-Wax into boxes. Monique Tatino selects candy from the shelves and carries it to Che Jones, who stuffs it into foam. Then Kinner Horn seals the boxes and affixes mailing labels. A few hundred thousand pieces of candy away, Rita Sancen arranges artful, mood-brightening candy bouquets. Her arrangements are the pride and joy of Candy Direct.

"I love to delegate; I don't like to micromanage," Traino explains. "That way, these guys can do their own thing, and they're happy, because I'm not bugging them all the time, and I'm happy because I can do my own job."

Traino knows how to get the most out of the people around him -- he seems to be a dream manager -- and he does so effortlessly. An air of calm happiness pervades the Candy Direct operation, and I daresay it isn't just the presence of so many chocolates and fruit-flavored sweets. While I wander around watching everyone work, Traino is off being industrious at his own computer, letting everybody do his or her thing.

And my thing, at that moment, is to marvel at the countless permutations of sugar. It's amazing the amount of creativity human beings have lavished on sweets. In Traino's warehouse I spy Tart N Tinys, Fluffy Stuff, Panic Buttons, Long Boys, CoffeeGo, Rain-Blo, Rip Rolls, Pixy Stix, Nik-L-Nip, Runts, Nerds, Razzles, Spree, Spooky Eyes, Crazy Dips, and Chick-O-Stick. Then there are the old standbys: Hershey's Bars, Tootsie Rolls, Baby Ruths, and so on. A veritable candy kingdom. And the king himself has granted me the freedom to wander in the treasure trove just as I please, a fantasy browse.

I stand there for some time, watching people work, imagining the contents of various wrappers. Eventually Traino pops his head around the corner, probably to make sure that I haven't contracted a case of contact-diabetes. When I remark on the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere Traino seems to foster, Monique Tatino glances up from a pile of Oh Henry! bars. "He gets us pizza for lunch ... sometimes."

"No I don't," Traino aw-shuckses, "I don't get you pizza enough."

How did Traino manage to preserve such humility as he gnawed his way through the vicious world of business? He whips up a tale of long hours and hard work, of slow successes earned through taking on arduous tasks on his own.

"I have this red Sentra," Traino explains, "it's still parked out there in the street, my old car. I'd throw all my boxes in there, and I'd drive it to the post office, and I literally couldn't see out of my window. And I'd go to the stupid post office, and stand in line, and during tax season especially people hated me. It would take forever, and there were other sellers there from places like eBay, doing the same thing I was. It wasn't fun."

If Traino has found his calling, he concedes that it has left him little time for a personal life. But he's newly married, and ready to embark on yet one more chapter of his life. I ask him if he enjoys himself, if he devotes time to other interests. "I'm pretty narrow-minded in that way. I'm trying to expand my horizons."

At times he sounds a refrain familiar to many thirty-somethings. "It's horrifying. I mean, I really should be doing some kind of sport, or mountain climbing, or whatever. I do love business, but you can't be that narrow-minded, and I'm starting to learn that. But it's hard. You really have to be here all the time. If the computers go down, then I have to be here to fix them, because they don't know how to do that."

Traino grows reflective, and a sage look stirs in his dark eyes. "You know, being a millionaire shouldn't be everybody's goal. There's all kinds of goals in life. Being a millionaire is not all it's cracked up to be. And I'm not a millionaire, but what if you don't have your health? What about the rest of life? Is it really worth it to work so hard to be a millionaire? I don't know. But now, Candy Direct is starting to run itself, and I can enjoy life, so I really need to start taking advantage of that."

But then, with scarcely a pause, Traino's distinguishing plumage begins to ruffle once again. "I do get restless. Very restless." he says. "I'm always coming up with ideas. I'll have a great idea, but I'm always trying to tie stuff into candy. And I do have another great idea for candy, but I can't talk about it yet. It's not in the candy business, but it's related to candy, and I think it's a very, very good idea."

Traino doesn't eat nearly as much candy as he used to -- the allure went bland once he could get it any time, all of the time (in this I sensed a certain wisdom) -- but he does admit to one addiction among his vices. The man is a compulsive domain name registerer.

"Boy, back in the day you could really register domain names," he says. "I mean, AltaVista.com, Loans.com. Loans.com sold for $3,000,000. All someone did was register a little domain name. That's it. They're rich." There go the hands again, the arms.

"Candy Direct was a good name back then. I mean, it still is. Most of the candy businesses are called CandyExpressToYou.com or something. I have like 75 different domain names that I've registered over the years. You can sell domain names, or rent them out, but I register them just for me. Just because I think it's important to have all those domain names for different businesses that are related to candy. I guess I'm kind of addicted."

But I don't get it. Registering domains? What for? Why pay $8.95 to register a name, and $800 per year to maintain one's claim on it?

"My domain names could be worth money some day, or they can be used for different businesses related to candy. CandyDirect.com is a valuable piece of real estate," he says. "People can remember how to get to me easier. I have CandyStore.com, which is a very, very valuable domain name."

Traino then explains something that makes sense to anyone who's ever conducted a Google search.

"It's all about type-in traffic. If you're ever sitting there, and you get desperate on the Internet and you're looking for something, and you're just like, 'I can't find this on a search engine,' and you type in 'Books.com,' or something like that, well, there you go. People type in, maybe not 'Candy Direct,' but they type in 'CandyStore.com,' and they find me, and I can make money doing nothing, just by type-in traffic. Why do I need CandyGalore.com? Why do I need

CandyVillage.com? Partially addiction, and partially because I can create several different stores."

Traino and candy are a good fit, and not just because he is himself sweet. "Candy is always changing, always changing, constantly," Traino says, though it seems to me he might just as well be talking about himself. "It's kind of the most innovative industry. It's colorful, it's fun. I mean, just look at the packaging. It's neat. The graphics ... people are always creating these new ideas. But the life span of ideas in the candy industry is very short."

Traino's voice takes on a prophetic air. "But there are some candies that will last forever, of course: there's the Hershey's Bar, the Gobstopper. But then other things like the Rip Rolls? They'll be here for a couple more years and then they'll go away."

I ask Traino whether he ever feels troubled about selling a product that could prove addictive, and that in any case isn't particularly good for people.

"I heard about a woman who's suing some candy company for rotting her kids' teeth," Traino says matter-of-factly. "And I guess if you eat too much candy then that's not a good thing. But too much of anything can be bad. And besides, what about all those memories we associate with candy? What about all the fun it gave us when we were kids? I guess I hope that the good of candy sort of outweighs that bad."

I confess that I like this justification. I hope Traino's right. But before I've had a chance to reflect on his words, I thank him and reluctantly prepare to wrap up our interview.

"Oh my gosh!" Traino gasps. "I haven't given you any candy!" And then, anticipating my (feigned) protests, he assures me, "It's not just because you're writing about me. I give lots of candy to the mailman too, and the UPS guy, everybody."

And then I live a little dream. The King of Candy, Willie Wonka in the flesh, Stephen Traino, the entrepreneur, The Candy Man, grabs two shoebox-sized boxes and starts filling them with exotic treats.

"Have you ever tried these?" he asks, seizing a handful of his favorite bonbon, chocolate-covered Gummi Bears. "How about this stuff? You like Necco wafers?" He inches me through his colorful cache of spoils, candy by candy, stuffing the boxes. I'm giddy. By the time I leave, hauling great plenty, I'm a big, dumb, smiling kid again, dizzy with expectation. Weeks and weeks of sweets!

For a moment I feel like I did before I ever worried much, when it took only a few sugary delights to transport me, back when I was young and successful and in the business of being happy.

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Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront. - Image by Derek  Plank
Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront.

"I was crossing the street in my old hometown of Fairport, New York, to get some candy," Stephen Traino admits, "and the next thing I knew, this car almost hit me because I wasn't even looking where I was going. That would be the only reason I was in that part of town. Just to get candy."

"I heard about a woman who's suing some candy company for rotting her kids' teeth."

We're talking at a fold-up card table in the impromptu conference room of a warehouse in National City. Every month, several thousand pounds of sweets pass through here, the hub of Traino's Internet business venture, Candy Direct. Traino has been regaling me for over an hour about his two great loves: business and candy.

"The guy in the car swerved, and he stopped and got mad at me, and he yelled." Traino speaks fast, as if in hot pursuit of his own thoughts. He sports a five o'clock shadow, though it's only 11 a.m. His eyes are wide and roundly brown. "You know, I'm glad the guy got mad at me. I thought he was a jerk at the time, and I was just a little kid." Traino's arms jump and wave in counterpoint to his words, and I can't help but get spurred by his enthusiasm. "You look both ways before you cross the street. I learned that lesson because of candy."

Stephen Traino: "I have this red Sentra. it's still parked out there in the street, my old car. I'd throw all my boxes in there, and I'd drive it to the post office, and I literally couldn't see out of my window."

Stephen Traino runs a candy business, yes, but calling him a businessman doesn't seem right: he's a Candy Man, a modern day Willie Wonka. Candy Direct's website gives the impression of offering most every confection ever made (which is almost true). Traino takes a rainbow, wraps it in a sigh, soaks it in the sun and makes a groovy lemon pie. While he's at it, he looks both ways and runs a fine business.

"I love candy," Traino explains, savoring the "o" in "love" as if it were one of his sugary confections. "When I was a kid, we'd ride our bikes for no other reason: just to look for candy. One store we went to was called Clausen's. We'd go through this thing called The Trolley Bed, where the old trolleys used to go through. It was just this big, dirt path, you know, but we'd call it The Trolley Bed.

I watch a driver in a white Jelly Belly truck pull up and unload Dragon Fire, Money Licorice, Pop Shot Baseball Bats, and Candy Love Beads Jewelry Kits. Three members of Traino's staff pack PayDays, Jolly Ranchers, Super Starlites and Wack-o-Wax into boxes.

We'd go down on our bikes, going over the rocks." His voice trails off, he seems far away for a moment, wistfully pedaling into his candied past. Then he starts up again in a friendly upstate-New York accent, his excitement building, the arms waving like a conductor's. "We'd take a left at this road, and go on a few more miles to the store. And when we got there we'd spend probably fifteen or twenty minutes looking at candies, maybe more. I remember they used to make this big long candy bar called the Marathon Bar — they don't make it anymore, discontinued in 1983 — and it had a little ruler on it, so you could see how long it was in inches, and it was twirly, and I remember going to this store just to get that candy bar."

Traino is so unguarded as he tells me about these candies past, so ingenuous with his details, that I find it difficult to believe this childlike fellow sitting before me cuts shrewd business deals.

"Another time, my brother told me, 'stop by Northside,' because that was a store where they had this thing called Bottle Caps. They still make these, but they used to be in these big packages. Now they come in kind of small packages." Traino is sweetest on nostalgic candies. The Candy Direct website revisits such venerable bonbons as Bit-O-Honey, Abba-Zaba, Nut Goodie, Look! Bar, and Charleston Chew. Traino's got the Golden Ticket to most every new and old confection imaginable. He's on a roll now, and I'm starting to get hungry.


Let me confess, before this goes any further, that when it comes to sugar, I am a regular user. I lose control when faced with the temptations of Sweet. Candy comforts, at least until conscience kicks in. Many sorrows have I buried beneath ice cream, chocolate, and sugary treats of all sorts. At times I believe that glutting my body can lighten my soul. At least -- or so I tell myself -- the demons of candy aren't too destructive.

What is it about sweetness? What does it do in mind and mouth that we love it so? Is this a foolish question? One may as well ask why harmonious sounds soothe while dissonant ones grate. Why do some colors pacify, while others incite? When we say someone is sweet, we mean they are kind; we mean they exercise compassion. Does sugar somehow care for our well-being? And if so, then how can it possibly be bad for us? (Ah, so much like love.) I taste irony in the fact that sweet flavors are picked up by buds on the front of the tongue, yet when I can't think of a word, when the word is right there, right on this tongue tip of mine, then that frustrated feeling doesn't register as very sweet.

The history of candy dates back thousands of years -- at least as far back as the Egyptians, who gorged themselves on treats made from fruit and nuts in honey. Making candy is pretty simple: you dissolve sugar in water. The amount of heat applied to the mixture determines the type of candy produced: hot temperatures make hard candy, moderate heat makes soft candy, and cool temperatures make chewy candy. According to one source, the average American consumes more than 25 pounds of confectionery per year. And Stephen Traino is responsible for moving literally tons of the stuff. What kind of man gets to do this for a living?


Traino, now 35, is a born entrepreneur. He has sold frozen yogurt, bathtubs, Xeroxes, and even, as a youngster, junk from out of his own garage.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've been really good at creating new business ideas," he says. "It's like second nature for me. I just always think of business ideas. And I'm always scatterbrained, trying all these different ideas." But he knows a good thing when he sees it, and when the Internet came along he was inspired to twin his two loves, candy and e-business, into one strong braid.

"I came up with Candy Direct just by looking around," he declares. "I was wondering, you know, what has no one else done? Well, books is being done, CDs and music's being done, travel's being done."

Traino grew up near Lake Ontario and attended college in Plattsburg, New York, just south of Montreal. He studied business, but not the way most people study business. He found accounting impossibly dull, and was frustrated when he realized that they don't teach numbers in marketing class. So he got permission from his professors to create his own major and design a unique course of study.

After graduating, Traino stayed in Plattsburg and worked for a company that imported bathtubs from a franchise up in Canada. The bathtub business wasn't so great, though, because Traino wanted to be a franchisee himself. He started interning for a consulting company at the same time, helping Canadian executives earn green cards so they could start businesses in the United States.

Eventually, Traino tried his hand at running a frozen-yogurt company. When that business failed, he moved back in with his parents for six or seven months. He was 23, and like any driven, young entrepreneur, he was looking to start his own enterprise. The only problem was that he didn't have much money. "I decided to move out to California," he states. "You know, 'Go west, young man.'"

He landed in Santa Ana, in Orange County, and worked for Xerox for about a year and a half but he hated it. "Good people, and they really wanted to improve the company, but it was just too rigid, too rigorous, and you know, too much politics and all that crap." The next company he worked for, Realm Internet Systems, also went belly-up, but while there he gained a fluency with the Internet that would serve him well down the road.

"That was a good job, but the boss just really didn't get along with people very well. I understood him, but a lot of people didn't. He did give me latitude, and I liked that, and I was learning from entrepreneurs who were smarter than I am."

Traino is grateful to have had mentors, but he now knows that he can only work for himself. "It's the old cliché: you work for yourself, you make your own hours, and it's true to an extent. I don't have to take orders from anyone. I can't take orders."

Independence aside, why do people start their own businesses?

"So you can make money, and support your family, and pursue the dream of getting rich, which is very rare, very rare in small business."

For all his apparent ambition, Traino is partial to underdogs.

"You know, you read a hundred articles of successful people, and there are probably a thousand more people who weren't successful. Whenever I read an article about a small business owner, I want to know about the first million. How did they make their first million? Who cares about Lee Iacocca, and what's-his-name from General Electric? They always want to interview these guys when they're already successful. But the question is, how do you get that first million? That is the hardest thing."

Traino breaks down the numbers and makes being a millionaire sound like a burden.

"Even if you make a million dollars in your company, or two million dollars in your company, you get taxed. You get taxed like 40 or 50 percent. You know, you have 35 or 40 percent federal, and then 9 percent state. You know, and I'm not going to get into politics or anything like that, I'm just saying you get taxed. So how do you become a millionaire? It's very hard to do. You need a really good idea. So I take an interest in how the successful people made their first million, and how the unsuccessful ones failed, and I try to learn from their risks and their mistakes."

Candy Direct was a really good idea, and it started small in 1996. "Out of my apartment, actually." Traino smiles sheepishly. Trucks would back up to his apartment to make deliveries and pickups before he had saved enough to move into a small office. Later, he opened a store in the Mission Gorge area, where he refined his concept before he finally settled here in National City about a year and a half ago. "And that's where we're at."

Traino is humble when he describes how he negotiated those first deals with the giant candy companies. "We had an arrangement with several suppliers in Southern California who would supply us."

We? Wasn't he the only employee?

"Oh," he says. "You know, we, yeah, that's a good question. You know, why do you say 'we'? I always talk that way. I like talking in 'we's' because, you know, it's our company, it's a business. But I guess you're right, it wasn't 'we,' it was me." He laughs, and then continues.

"I think my first employee was hired in '99, so it was about a year and a half, two years, where it was just me, and I'd take all the pictures, I'd do all the customer service, I'd do all the accounting.

"We started buying from all these distributors," (that odd royal we was back, but I let him be) "and then what you start doing is you start buying direct, because then you've got more clout and money. So we started buying direct, from Nestlé, from Hershey's, from Necco.

"We started with $500, maybe. It was nothing. But there was no one doing it at the time. I mean, there were a few small candy stores, but they weren't doing it seriously. But you have to build slowly. You always hear about the dot-com entrepreneurs, but you never hear about the little guys starting out. You have to stick with it. And it's depressing, for the first couple of years."

This year, the gross sales at Candy Direct have topped $2 million. He calls himself "an employee of the business," but he's also the chief operating officer, so he makes all the decisions, including the matter of his own salary. "But I pretty much reinvest all my money back into the business," he says, "because I want to grow. I want to keep building this thing into a bigger business. I want to have multiple locations; I want to maybe start stores, or start franchise stores. I've got all kinds of ideas."

Candy Direct is a success, but I wonder whether a man with such a restless temperament can be satisfied. "At first I said I wanted to be a millionaire at 30. And then I said I wanted to be a millionaire at 35. Well, now I'm 35, and I'm not a millionaire. So my goal now is to be healthy and happy, and money is just a tool to be happy. But, you know, we're all going to die. We're all going to become dust. Seriously. We're just here for a short time, not to get into religion or anything, but we're all the same, and we're all going to die and become dust. But in the meantime, I enjoy creating new things. I enjoy creating businesses. I'd do it just for fun. I guess it's always just still my goal: to be an entrepreneur. You know, you read where people retire and they go away to the islands for six months, and then they come back, and they start another business. That's just it. That's what we are. That's what I am. I am an entrepreneur. Other people are writers. Other people are actors. But that's just what I do. I create businesses."


Down in National City, in a corporate subdivision on the concrete banks of the aptly named Sweetwater River, Candy Direct operates out of a nondescript storefront. Through the narrow entryway where I've been interviewing Traino, the candy-crammed fan-cooled warehouse opens out in back. The storage space is small, perhaps 1,000 square feet. Upstairs is an office stuffed with computers and telephones and snaking wires.

A portable stereo softly plays 91X while I watch a driver in a white Jelly Belly truck pull up and unload Dragon Fire, Money Licorice, Pop Shot Baseball Bats, and Candy Love Beads Jewelry Kits. Three members of Traino's staff pack PayDays, Jolly Ranchers, Super Starlites and Wack-o-Wax into boxes. Monique Tatino selects candy from the shelves and carries it to Che Jones, who stuffs it into foam. Then Kinner Horn seals the boxes and affixes mailing labels. A few hundred thousand pieces of candy away, Rita Sancen arranges artful, mood-brightening candy bouquets. Her arrangements are the pride and joy of Candy Direct.

"I love to delegate; I don't like to micromanage," Traino explains. "That way, these guys can do their own thing, and they're happy, because I'm not bugging them all the time, and I'm happy because I can do my own job."

Traino knows how to get the most out of the people around him -- he seems to be a dream manager -- and he does so effortlessly. An air of calm happiness pervades the Candy Direct operation, and I daresay it isn't just the presence of so many chocolates and fruit-flavored sweets. While I wander around watching everyone work, Traino is off being industrious at his own computer, letting everybody do his or her thing.

And my thing, at that moment, is to marvel at the countless permutations of sugar. It's amazing the amount of creativity human beings have lavished on sweets. In Traino's warehouse I spy Tart N Tinys, Fluffy Stuff, Panic Buttons, Long Boys, CoffeeGo, Rain-Blo, Rip Rolls, Pixy Stix, Nik-L-Nip, Runts, Nerds, Razzles, Spree, Spooky Eyes, Crazy Dips, and Chick-O-Stick. Then there are the old standbys: Hershey's Bars, Tootsie Rolls, Baby Ruths, and so on. A veritable candy kingdom. And the king himself has granted me the freedom to wander in the treasure trove just as I please, a fantasy browse.

I stand there for some time, watching people work, imagining the contents of various wrappers. Eventually Traino pops his head around the corner, probably to make sure that I haven't contracted a case of contact-diabetes. When I remark on the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere Traino seems to foster, Monique Tatino glances up from a pile of Oh Henry! bars. "He gets us pizza for lunch ... sometimes."

"No I don't," Traino aw-shuckses, "I don't get you pizza enough."

How did Traino manage to preserve such humility as he gnawed his way through the vicious world of business? He whips up a tale of long hours and hard work, of slow successes earned through taking on arduous tasks on his own.

"I have this red Sentra," Traino explains, "it's still parked out there in the street, my old car. I'd throw all my boxes in there, and I'd drive it to the post office, and I literally couldn't see out of my window. And I'd go to the stupid post office, and stand in line, and during tax season especially people hated me. It would take forever, and there were other sellers there from places like eBay, doing the same thing I was. It wasn't fun."

If Traino has found his calling, he concedes that it has left him little time for a personal life. But he's newly married, and ready to embark on yet one more chapter of his life. I ask him if he enjoys himself, if he devotes time to other interests. "I'm pretty narrow-minded in that way. I'm trying to expand my horizons."

At times he sounds a refrain familiar to many thirty-somethings. "It's horrifying. I mean, I really should be doing some kind of sport, or mountain climbing, or whatever. I do love business, but you can't be that narrow-minded, and I'm starting to learn that. But it's hard. You really have to be here all the time. If the computers go down, then I have to be here to fix them, because they don't know how to do that."

Traino grows reflective, and a sage look stirs in his dark eyes. "You know, being a millionaire shouldn't be everybody's goal. There's all kinds of goals in life. Being a millionaire is not all it's cracked up to be. And I'm not a millionaire, but what if you don't have your health? What about the rest of life? Is it really worth it to work so hard to be a millionaire? I don't know. But now, Candy Direct is starting to run itself, and I can enjoy life, so I really need to start taking advantage of that."

But then, with scarcely a pause, Traino's distinguishing plumage begins to ruffle once again. "I do get restless. Very restless." he says. "I'm always coming up with ideas. I'll have a great idea, but I'm always trying to tie stuff into candy. And I do have another great idea for candy, but I can't talk about it yet. It's not in the candy business, but it's related to candy, and I think it's a very, very good idea."

Traino doesn't eat nearly as much candy as he used to -- the allure went bland once he could get it any time, all of the time (in this I sensed a certain wisdom) -- but he does admit to one addiction among his vices. The man is a compulsive domain name registerer.

"Boy, back in the day you could really register domain names," he says. "I mean, AltaVista.com, Loans.com. Loans.com sold for $3,000,000. All someone did was register a little domain name. That's it. They're rich." There go the hands again, the arms.

"Candy Direct was a good name back then. I mean, it still is. Most of the candy businesses are called CandyExpressToYou.com or something. I have like 75 different domain names that I've registered over the years. You can sell domain names, or rent them out, but I register them just for me. Just because I think it's important to have all those domain names for different businesses that are related to candy. I guess I'm kind of addicted."

But I don't get it. Registering domains? What for? Why pay $8.95 to register a name, and $800 per year to maintain one's claim on it?

"My domain names could be worth money some day, or they can be used for different businesses related to candy. CandyDirect.com is a valuable piece of real estate," he says. "People can remember how to get to me easier. I have CandyStore.com, which is a very, very valuable domain name."

Traino then explains something that makes sense to anyone who's ever conducted a Google search.

"It's all about type-in traffic. If you're ever sitting there, and you get desperate on the Internet and you're looking for something, and you're just like, 'I can't find this on a search engine,' and you type in 'Books.com,' or something like that, well, there you go. People type in, maybe not 'Candy Direct,' but they type in 'CandyStore.com,' and they find me, and I can make money doing nothing, just by type-in traffic. Why do I need CandyGalore.com? Why do I need

CandyVillage.com? Partially addiction, and partially because I can create several different stores."

Traino and candy are a good fit, and not just because he is himself sweet. "Candy is always changing, always changing, constantly," Traino says, though it seems to me he might just as well be talking about himself. "It's kind of the most innovative industry. It's colorful, it's fun. I mean, just look at the packaging. It's neat. The graphics ... people are always creating these new ideas. But the life span of ideas in the candy industry is very short."

Traino's voice takes on a prophetic air. "But there are some candies that will last forever, of course: there's the Hershey's Bar, the Gobstopper. But then other things like the Rip Rolls? They'll be here for a couple more years and then they'll go away."

I ask Traino whether he ever feels troubled about selling a product that could prove addictive, and that in any case isn't particularly good for people.

"I heard about a woman who's suing some candy company for rotting her kids' teeth," Traino says matter-of-factly. "And I guess if you eat too much candy then that's not a good thing. But too much of anything can be bad. And besides, what about all those memories we associate with candy? What about all the fun it gave us when we were kids? I guess I hope that the good of candy sort of outweighs that bad."

I confess that I like this justification. I hope Traino's right. But before I've had a chance to reflect on his words, I thank him and reluctantly prepare to wrap up our interview.

"Oh my gosh!" Traino gasps. "I haven't given you any candy!" And then, anticipating my (feigned) protests, he assures me, "It's not just because you're writing about me. I give lots of candy to the mailman too, and the UPS guy, everybody."

And then I live a little dream. The King of Candy, Willie Wonka in the flesh, Stephen Traino, the entrepreneur, The Candy Man, grabs two shoebox-sized boxes and starts filling them with exotic treats.

"Have you ever tried these?" he asks, seizing a handful of his favorite bonbon, chocolate-covered Gummi Bears. "How about this stuff? You like Necco wafers?" He inches me through his colorful cache of spoils, candy by candy, stuffing the boxes. I'm giddy. By the time I leave, hauling great plenty, I'm a big, dumb, smiling kid again, dizzy with expectation. Weeks and weeks of sweets!

For a moment I feel like I did before I ever worried much, when it took only a few sugary delights to transport me, back when I was young and successful and in the business of being happy.

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