Durham pediatric dentist, husband create yummy, sugar-free caramels

DURHAM (WTVD) -- Mother's Day is Sunday and if the mom in your life has a sweet tooth but doesn't want the sugar, a local couple has the perfect gift - Tom and Jenny's Soft Caramels!

Tom and Jenny aren't just names on the package but a real couple who fell in love at UNC Chapel Hill and are now married, living in wake county.

Tom Thekkekandam and Jenny Citineni are both self-proclaimed sugar addicts, but Citineni, a pediatric dentist in Durham, knows first hand the problems sugar can cause.

They were disappointed with all the sugar-free options on the market.

"The aisles and aisles of sugar-free stuff are chock full of artificial ingredients and it just tastes awful," said Citineni. "We were like, 'let's make something better.'"

But creating "something better" wasn't easy.

They ordered books, did a ton of research, and then Citineni started testing recipes.

"I tried, didn't work, he tried ... it worked," they both laughed. "She's the brains, I'm the sweat," said Thekkekandam.

And sweat he did.

Thekkekandam tested hundreds of batches in their tiny apartment kitchens, as they made several career moves including New York City for Cititneni's dental residency.

Which is where they happened to meet an award-winning pastry chef who became a mentor.

After about 200 test batches they said they finished with an all natural, plant-based, sugar-free caramel that did not taste sugar-free, and knew they had something good.

When they moved back to Wake County, Citineni started a pediatric practice in Durham.

And Thekkekandam started making candy full time.

He spent long hours in the kitchen, hand making caramels.

They hired local college students to help with individually wrapping each one, calling them "wrapping parties."

Foster 's Market was the first to start selling Tom and Jenny's Soft Caramels then A Southern Season and Amazon.

Their candy is now also sold in about 40 independent retailers in and out of North Carolina.

After getting a manufacturing deal, Thekkekandam no longer hand makes the candy, he's now busy selling.

They are expanding flavors and hoping to get into more retailers like major grocery chains.

"He loves what he does," Citineni said smiling at her husband who added, "it's always fun to make something people enjoy."
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