Local business offers DIY candlemaking

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Photo by Maria Crenshaw

The venue, located at 524 S. 2nd St., is decorated with old-style charm, including soft lighting, Cream City brick, wooden tables and hanging plants.

Picture yourself in your favorite coffee shop on a rainy day. You may know how it looks and sounds, but what about how it smells?

Kevin Goudzwaard had the idea of the “scent-memory connection” in mind when he founded Milwaukee Candle Company. After building his business for four years, Goudzwaard said he felt compelled to provide a new experience for the people of Milwaukee — so, he started Glassnote Candle Bar, located at 524 S. 2nd St., Walker’s Point, Milwaukee.

“What we do at the candle bar is we invite people in to create their own scents and partake in the candlemaking experience,” Goudzwaard said. “People can make their own custom scent, make their own candle and leave with that candle.”

Sara Korajkic, a senior in the College of Nursing who works at Glassnote, said she thinks this is a special company because she hadn’t heard of anything like it before, apart from other companies offering “paint and sip” classes where one can follow a teacher’s instructions to create an artistic piece while being served beverages.

The candle bar — the first of its kind in Milwaukee — does offer drinks but is unlike a typical “paint and sip” experience, Goudzwaard emphasized.

“People were calling me for about a year asking if we offered candlemaking classes, and I kept saying no, because we didn’t,” he said. “I took a step back and started thinking, ‘How am I gonna do this? Do I want it to be a candle class, or do I want it to be more of a … relaxed environment?’”

Goudzwaard said he settled on making the space more of a lounge rather than a class because he wants people to be able to spend meaningful time with their respective parties.

“I think it provokes more conversation amongst the people that you’re with,” he said. “If you’re sitting in a class and someone’s teaching you the whole time, you don’t really have time to interact with your crew that you came with.”

Annie Walsh and Ashley Lopez, seniors in the College of Nursing and employees at Glassnote,  said the overall relaxed vibe transfers over to the nature of the job.

“We’re all nurses, so it’s fun to have this because we can be more creative, and it’s a totally different vibe than what we’ll be experiencing soon,” Walsh said.

“We go there and we can just play our own music and make candles, and it’s just a fun environment to be in,” Lopez said.

The candlemaking process begins with a specific table setting that has everything necessary to make a candle: an instructions sheet, a beaker and a glass jar, among other things. Then a staff member —  called a “chandler” to reflect the historical name for candlemakers — will demonstrate how to hold two candles together and move them in a figure-eight motion in order to test how the scents blend.

“The timing of your inhale can tell you what’s gonna mix well together,” Goudzwaard said.

Goudzwaard said he and the chandlers try not to instruct too much about which scents to choose, as the scents are a matter of personal preference and often provoke particular memories.

“Sometimes people will smell something, and they’ll just go off into their own little place,” he said. “And then they say, ‘Oh my God, that reminds me of the living room of the first house I lived in when I was a little kid.’ … Or, ‘This reminds me of fall time up in Door County.’”

Once someone has settled on a scent combination that speaks to them, they go back to their table and place an order for the scented oils, similar to placing an order at a restaurant. Once a chandler brings the oils back to the customer’s table, the chandler gives instructions for creating the custom candle. Goudzwaard said they then prompt the new candlemakers to name their candles spontaneously in order to provoke honest associations.

Goudzwaard said he associates many of his memories of Milwaukee with particular scents, and that is what inspired the Hometown Collection of candles at the Milwaukee Candle Company, many of which are on display and for sale at Glassnote. Some of the titles include “Bradford Beach on a Good Day,” “Third Ward Java Dark Chocolate” and “Brewery Tour.”

With the candle bar situated in Walker’s Point on the floor right above Spanish restaurant Movida and among various other local restaurants, bars and shops, there is ample opportunity to boost the area’s economy.

“You can make a whole night of it. Food at Movida, come up here afterwards, pour a candle, have a nice date night or a girls’ night, or maybe go down the street to Tin Widow,” Goudzwaard said. “There’s a lot of cool spots around here that I try to encourage people to go to while they’re down here.”

Goudzwaard said he strives to get involved with and promote other local businesses, guided by the belief that backing other local vendors creates a cyclical support system among businesses while giving back to Milwaukee. A study by American Express in 2018 found that on average, for every dollar spent at a small business, 67 cents stays within the local community.

Financial impacts aside, Goudzwaard said his business and other small businesses can provide the opportunity for a more personalized, purposeful experience for customers.

“I feel like there might be a little bit more intention behind what we do here. Everyone has a lot of hands in the product and the process and in the interactions as well,” he said. “I just think there’s something cool about local businesses and knowing the person who is making something that you use in your home.”

The curation of the space itself began in July 2019, but its elements — from the walls to the chairs to the bar countertop — constitute a bricolage of stories and time periods. Ascending the stairs of a building that dates back to 1882 and arriving at a door with a minimalist sign that reads “Glassnote Candle Bar,” one may feel transported to a speakeasy. The door opens to a softly lit room of Cream City brick, wooden tables, hanging plants and various light fixtures.

“Almost everything in here is repurposed,” Goudzwaard said. “The shelving unit was from the St. Francis of Assisi sisterhood building that they demolished. It seems like everything in here has a story to it.”

Not unlike scents, certain components — like the zinc bar top — have memories.

“Even the zinc takes on a story of its own because as it’s used, more marks form,” Goudzwaard said. “But that just adds character.”

One person can make one candle for $35 or two candles for $55, and for private parties the rate is $40 per person. Reservations can be made online at glassnotecandlebar.com, and more information can be found on Glassnote Candle Bar’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

This story was written by Emma Brauer. She can be reached at emma.brauer@marquette.edu.