Candy Man's job can be taxing
Meet Willie Wonk. His real name is Patrick Gillespie, an "audit standards and procedures" manager in the state Department of Revenue's audit division. For the last two months, Gillespie has been compiling a list of candy that should be subject to a new state tax.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Meet Willie Wonk.
His real name is Patrick Gillespie, an "audit standards and procedures" manager in the state Department of Revenue audit division. Been there for 11 years.
But for the last two months, Gillespie, 52, has been our Candy Man: the guy who compiled a list of every candy sold in the state of Washington, and determine whether it contains flour.
If it does, then life goes on as usual, and you can feel free to indulge your sweet tooth at the same price you've been paying.
But if it doesn't contain flour, then the taste will not be as sweet come June. That's when the state will start charging sales tax on candy and gum as part of the $800 million tax package approved by the Legislature.
So Kit Kat bars will indeed get a break. They contain flour.
But Good & Plenty? Not so good. No flour.
Gillespie's "candy list" goes on and on — 87 pages of single-spaced names, from "assorted coffee flavored hard candies," a seeming reception-desk afterthought, to the new spin on an old classic, "Wrigley's Winterfresh."
In between, a toothache-inducing journey through generations of marketing genius, with quick stops in Europe, Asia and Mexico.
There are things called "Gummy Handcuffs," "Mozart Kugel Delights,"and the crudely monikered "English Toffee Slab." (All taxable).
"Oh, yes, I am quite familiar with it all," Gillespie told me.
He's a Toblerone man, a taste developed when he went to school overseas. And?
"Taxable," he said, flatly.
A few months ago, when state officials started discussing the tax and how to implement it, Gillespie volunteered to compile the list and determine whether there was money to be made from such things as "Hard Natural Horehound Drops." (There is).
He started by searching the Internet for the names of the largest candy wholesalers in the country, then went through their merchandise lists to check the ingredients. He also checked Asian specialty stores and Mexican-food websites.
Days stretched into weeks searching all things sour, gummy, jelly, nutty and laffy.
"I didn't think it would be this big," Gillespie said. "I mean, look at how many jelly beans there are. It's just enormous."
Gillespie found 80 kinds of Kit Kats. Red potato, soy sauce.
"Grilled corn is one I really want to try," he said.
There are other variations: Finnish licorice has salt on it. Some Mexican candy has habanero chilies in it.
And there are surprises. Licorice contains wheat flour, so it's exempt from the tax. So are Milky Way bars, but not the Milky Way Midnight bar, which doesn't contain flour.
"The people in my office who have a big tub of licorice on their desks are like, 'Yeah!' and I'm thinking, 'It's just licorice.' "
Oh, but we know that's not true. Why would people be hitting the link to the candy list like doorbells on Halloween? (www.dor.wa.gov).
Candy isn't just something we consume. It's our childhoods. It's a sure sign of our taste, our personality.
Do you really want to hang out with someone who eats Circus Peanuts, or would put Sour Snagx in their mouth?
But some candy isn't about what's in it, Gillespie said.
"Sometimes it's just creative marketing," he said. "You look at Asian candy and there's something called 'Flower Bouquet candy.' I am looking at the package, but I have no idea what's in it."
Gillespie continues to do research, scanning the candy shelves at gas stations and grocery stores every day.
He thought he was doing pretty well until a distributor sent him a new list to go through: 396 pages of some 11,000 Asian candies sold in this state. Sweet.
"This will all end sometime," the Candy Man said. "I don't know if it's in my lifetime ... "
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
Hershey's. Plain. She's a purist.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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