Last summer, the Jimenez siblings, JJ and Rudy, thought it would be really sweet if they could make some extra cash by selling their homemade Mexican-American candies to friends and family, and maybe a few followers on social media.
A year later, what started as a side-hustle is a full-time business with six-figure annual revenue, called Enchilositos Treats, which now ships spicy and sour-sweet candy concoctions all across the country.
JJ, 26, and Rudy Jimenez, 19, started making the treats, called chilitos, or dulces enchilados — sour-sweet candies like Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, or Gushers coated with traditional Mexican spices like chili powder and chamoy — after they saw others doing it in viral videos on social media.
"We kind of looked at each other and had that first little bite," Rudy says. "[And, JJ said,] 'we can do something with this.... Let's start trying to sell it to our friends and family and just locals if we possibly can."
Within its first 12 months, Enchilositos Treats brought in over $105,000 in revenue from online sales.
"It started off as a side hustle...our goal was not to make a lot of money or even get big. It just did it on its own," JJ says. "Once you try them, you just fall in love."
Initially, Rudy wanted to make the candy to try them — the combination of common American snack foods with Mexican spices reminded her of her and her brother's childhood growing up in Southern California with their Mexican immigrant parents, who put Mexican spices on a lot of food, including fruit.
"The way we grew up, our parents always kind of told us to make [things] ourselves, if we were able to," she says.
And at first, JJ wasn't sure about his sister's idea to sell candy. "I thought it would just not work out," because he worried spicy Mexican candy couldn't compare to the sweetness or sour flavors of American candy.
But after making their first batch with Gushers and other gummy candies coated in chamoy (a spicy-sweet paste made from pickled fruit and chiles), chili powder and other spices, "it was delicious," he says.
The siblings started the candy business with ingredients bought at their local grocery store and mixed in the kitchen of their parents' small apartment in California. (They have since moved to Brenham, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston.)
They made an Instagram page to advertise their treats in June 2020, and a day later, they say the account had over 100 followers and people were messaging them to order bags of candy. (Now, that same account has nearly 16,000 followers.)
While Rudy was wrapping up her high school degree, JJ had already dabbled in a variety of jobs, including working for various restaurants and at a manufacturing company, as well as delivering food for GrubHub. He also had a side-hustle reselling items on eBay, from toys to DVDs to purses his mother bought at yard sales.
That experience gave him the confidence to try starting his own venture with Rudy.
JJ had saved a little bit over $10,000 from his various jobs, and he invested that into their new business venture, including building a website to make it easier to handle online orders, as well as branded packaging and shipping materials to send their treats to more customers outside of their local market.
That same summer, Rudy began reaching out to social media influencers. The biggest by far who responded was Yasmin "BeautyyBird" Maya, a Mexican-American beauty vlogger who also happens to be from Carpinteria. After Maya promoted the Jimenez siblings' candies to her 1.1 million Instagram followers, JJ and Rudy saw an influx of orders on social media.
Within a few months of launching, JJ says he and Rudy would usually average 30 candy orders per day (60 on a really good day), which they would make fresh each day and deliver themselves.
"As we kept progressing through the months and getting more and more orders, we were like, 'That's crazy,'" Rudy says now.
As the orders mounted, and JJ and Rudy spent much of their days making and delivering candy, JJ quit his job at a manufacturing company — roughly three months into the business and in the middle of the pandemic — to focus on Enchilositos Treats full-time.
Rudy, who is attending cosmetology school but plans to focus solely on Enchilositos Treats once she graduates, admits she was "a little bit scared" when her brother told her he'd quit his job, because it put more pressure on their business to succeed.
"It was a big moment where I was like, 'OK... if you already did it, let's just go for it, then. And we have to put all our effort into this little business that we just started,'" Rudy says.
A year later, JJ's gamble has paid off, with Enchilositos Treats growing into a business with six-figure sales, even with just the brother and sister (who are both co-owners) as the only two employees.
In December, the siblings moved with their parents to Brenham, Texas to house with a "pretty big kitchen" as well as more than enough storage space for ingredients and shipping materials, Rudy says. (The move had already been in the works pre-candy business.) They've also cut out local deliveries in order to focus all of their time on shipping online orders.
"Now we're able to sustain ourselves with it and pay off our bills and things like that," JJ say. "And we're hoping to continue to grow bigger and bigger."
Now the Enchilositos Treats website offers a wider range of spice-covered candies, including Jolly Ranchers, Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups, Nerds, gummy bears, gummy peach rings, and many others. Prices start at $4 for a 4-ounce bag of candy. JJ and Rudy say they keep roughly half of that amount after factoring in the cost of goods, which includes buying the brand-name candies in bulk at grocery stores like Sam's Club.
JJ and Rudy also sell some of their spice mixes and pastes separately.
As online orders from customers have rolled in from all over the U.S. (and, they've even had order requests from Canada and Mexico), JJ and Rudy quickly realized how many people want to try the candy, whether it reminds them of the flavors of their childhoods or if they're just intrigued by an interesting new flavor combination that crosses between cultures.
Their business has been popular enough that JJ and Rudy are even hoping to open a physical location. "It's time for us to be able to do that, so we're ready to be able to open up a location very soon here in Texas," Rudy says.
—Additional reporting contributed by Emma Fierberg