Lori Lee of Surf City Temptations brings a piece of tropical island paradise to Surf City. Like so many local entrepreneurs and artisans, her contributions to the local art community and economy are filled with serendipity, hard work and creativity.
A California native with a strong family background in the restaurant business, Lori spent some years in the Midwest pursuing a successful career as a chef. In the late 90s, while working at Brett Favre's Steakhouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin, she decided to move back to Southern California to be close to family. She also missed California culture. Those early transition years were spent working at a tanning salon that also offered massages to clients. As luck would have it, the massage room needed some candles, and it just so happened that Lori had spent snowed-in days in Wisconsin making candles.
"There was nothing else to do, and everyone there made their own candles," she reminisces. She dug up some old handmade candles to put in the massage room, "and that's how it all started," says Lori. "Customers loved the smell, and one day my boss said to me, 'You should sell those candles!'"
The salon owner was instrumental in getting her business off the ground in 2005. Lori began making candles by hand again and selling them at the salon, and together they inquired about selling her products at the Pier Plaza Art-A-Faire. Here, she ran into a small obstacle. Says Lori: "The farmers markets don't like a lot of competition, and they already had a candlemaker. So they said to me, 'We need a soap seller. You can sell 80 percent soap and 20 percent candles.' So that's what I did, and I still sell soap now. I began experimenting with the candles, and I'd learn how to do things by hand. For a while I would get raw bamboo and use that to put the candles in, and eventually I moved on to coconut shells. Within two years , everything was tropical."
Her candles were a hit, and pretty soon she was also selling on weekends at the Art-A-Faire. She has been stationed there ever since, and in 2012 she joined the Surf City Nights lineup on Main Street. Her stepdad, Bob Stone, has been a huge support, having helped her setup her booth every Friday for the past eight years.
Lori has always created new ideas for her products, and in 2009, she stumbled upon a winning recipe to debut for Valentine's Day: her massage oil candle. Massage oil candles have been gaining in popularity over the years and are more than just scented candles. They provide a pleasing aroma, and they can be used as lotion and massage oil. This is now the most popular item Lori sells.
She hand-makes her own recipe of high-quality, aromatic massage oil from grape seed, coconut, hemp, vitamin E and a bit of soy, and also adds a hint of a tropical scent made from natural, high-quality ingredients. There's a scent for everyone, with sweet, warm, comforting bouquets like black raspberry vanilla, the island coconut signature blend (coconut, mango, papaya, pineapple and Tahitian vanilla) and mango papaya. For folks who like more earthy or savory scents, the candle comes in cucumber melon and eucalyptus spearmint as well.
One thing that sets Surf City Temptations apart from other makers is the unique presentation that takes the candles beyond a glass container and moves them into the realm of artistic expression. All of Lori's candles are hand-poured into carefully cleaned coconut shells or authentic, premium seashells, which can be displayed on small wooden stands and instantly bring those in the room into a more natural, relaxing mindset.
After Surf City Temptations got off the ground, business boomed for years. "I would easily earn $800 to $1,000 per day selling my products when the economy was good," says Lori. Now, times are tougher. After the 2008 economic crash, she felt the hardships of being a local small business owner. Says Lori, "It's been really hard since the economy went down. It's hard when you do everything yourself." She works extremely hard to keep her products on the shelf, and she runs her Huntington Beach-based business completely alone out of necessity. Since she makes everything by hand (even preparing the coconut shells that contain the candles), she is always working and surrounded by her products. One of the perks of this lifestyle, though, is access to her own quality products. "I use the massage oil candle," she tells us.
Even though the massage oil candle seems to be everyone's favorite, Lori also hand-makes traditional scented candles in coconut shells and seashells using high-quality palm wax, soy and a wide variety of tropical island scents. She also features aromas like basil mint, sexy and ocean mist to the list of options, and adds bursts of lively, saturated colors to these candles since they aren't meant to be used on the skin. This splash of color further emphasizes the island theme.
When asked about competing with products that have been outsourced out of the country and mass produced, Lori replies confidently, "We [artisan business owners] have pride in our work that they'll never have." That sounds about right. Each creation at Surf City Temptations is unique and beautiful and has an extra ingredient: a bit of that island relaxation perfect for unwinding after a long day. And for those who are looking to purchase a gift, Lori can add wrapping that is just as special and hand-created as what's inside the package.
Surprised by the ways her history in the restaurant business prepared her for running her own business, Lori draws parallels between cooking a meal and making a candle. Besides the obvious job of experimenting with recipes, "Making a candle is not too hard, but it's all about timing," she explains. "I found that I'm more creative than I ever thought. The restaurant business helped me in other ways too," she notes: "Things like accounting, ordering supplies and managing inventory."
These days, despite some difficulty in keeping the business running, Lori emphasizes the importance of supporting local entrepreneurs who work tirelessly to keep their products and services available to the community. "My regular customers who come to me weekly or monthly keep me afloat," says Lori.
Chat with her on Tuesdays at Surf City Nights and Fridays at the Pier Plaza Art-A-Faire.