Honey is the first scent that tingles your senses after lighting the candle and inhaling. Afterwards, 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 target: your memories of warm, honey-covered sopaipillas at Casa Bonita.
Sopaipilla-scented candles are one of the quirky but creative additions to the singular restaurant’s new gift shop, but they’re not an afterthought. Each is handcrafted in Denver by Wooly Wax, a custom candle shop owned by Rachel Woolcott.
And Woolcott is not just any candle maker. She’s the longtime Denver and Boulder chef behind Aix, a French bistro that found its way along the 17th Avenue row of restaurants from 2001 to 2009.
Which is good, since eating sopaipillas is an essential part of the Casa Bonita experience for tens of thousands of Coloradans, including Woolcott.
“Scent and taste are very similar in how they are formulated and created. They go to the same part of the brain and 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 experience of chef in order to break it down the same way you would build a recipe.
Casa Bonita’s marketing team first contacted Woolcott, but they have known the restaurant’s renowned chef, Dana Rodriguez, for years from her work in the restaurant industry – which Woolcott says helped her communicate better when she visited the pink palace in April.
“I went to Casa Bonita and Dana explained the recipe to me and what was important to her,” she explained. “When she talks, I know what she’s saying because I’ve been cooking for a long time. We have the same understanding of the palace. We speak the same language.
After that, Woolcott got to work and after a few rounds of tweaking — “adding a little of this and a little less of that,” she said — they created a version of the candle they both loved.
Rodriguez, in an email to the Denver Post, said she felt the candle “captures the essence” of sopaipillas “so perfectly that you’ll feel like you’re right back in place.” .
To make her candles, Woolcott relies on her culinary experience to put together the ingredients, but she is also careful about her process and her ingredients. The candles are hand poured in small batches and she and her team of three use only natural soy wax and distill their own aromatic oils. Although Woolcott says she sometimes misses the restaurant industry, making candles allows her to play with ingredients in the same way as a chef.
Many of her candles are sold at stores like Whole Foods and Leever’s Locavore, as well as in her store and online. They include scents like San Francisco Fog, which brings out cedarwood, eucalyptus, and saltwater, and Mile High, which brings out the scents of ponderosa pine.
She also makes custom candles for companies like Laws Whiskey House, which the Wooly Wax site says contains notes of “charred white oak, leather, caramel and tobacco,” and Ikea. The latter was supposed to smell of the furniture store’s famous Swedish meatballs (although Woolcott said it probably won’t make any more meat-scented candles in the future).
All that work means candles don’t come cheap. Casa Bonita’s eight-ounce candle is $27.95 in the gift shop, and Woolcott said most of its other candles are $26 or $27.
“Supplies are expensive, jars and lids are expensive. These are hand made. We cut our own wicks, wipe down and clean the pots,” she said. “I consider them an affordable luxury because a candle can last for weeks or months. …I feel like you get a lot of that.
However, people shopping at Casa Bonita’s gift shop don’t seem to care about the price: Woolcott said the restaurant just placed a large new order.
In fact, they’re one of the “most popular” sellers at the store, according to Rodriguez.
“It’s special to me, and special to be a part of this,” added Woolcott, who celebrated there with friends several years ago. “It’s also part of my story.”
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