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Early in their candle-making journey, future Loomen Labs co-owners Jordan Cook and Jeff Yu set out to hand make candles to give to their moms for Mother’s Day. And they botched it.
“The ingredients were wrong. Everything was awful,” said Cook, 22.
“It was the wrong wax type, the wrong essential oil,” explained Yu, 29. But “even though we were doing all the wrong things, it was a lot of fun, the two of us creating something together.”
The couple decided to continue that partnership. They honed their craft, refining the process down to an exact science. Cook began selling candles online. And in September, just after getting engaged, theyopened a DIY candle bar at 620 S. 5th St.
At the Queen Village shop, anyone can come in and take advantage of the tools set up to create their own custom candle.
Prices start at $30 for an hour-long candle-making session (in 2022, the base will change to $40 for 90 minutes). That includes a candle jar, the oils, and the wax. You can also choose add-ons, like dye to turn the wax different colors, or order a $5 customized seltzer to sip while you work.
After you choose your jar, you get to create a custom scent from a selection of fragrance oils, each named after a Philadelphia neighborhood (be assured they do not smell like these suggestions).
Lauren Huang, 19, a finance major at UPenn, recently came to Loomen Labs with friends. For her candle, she mixed together two fragrance oils: “Penn’s Landing” and “Spring Garden.”
“I just wanted a really fresh, spring, citrusy kind of smell,” she said. “Each of the scents themselves are already pretty curated. We could read about the top notes, middle notes, and base notes.”
Huang said she also enjoyed the scientific element of the experience. Fragrance oils are measured out in graduated cylinders, and wax temperatures are measured with infrared thermometers.
When adding the fragrance oil, the wax should be 170°F. If it were hotter, the fragrance oil might evaporate or denature, Cook said, and the scent wouldn’t be as strong. A lower temperature wouldn’t allow the fragrance oil to adhere to the wax. Additionally, the fragrance oil and wax should be mixed until cooled to 140° before being poured slowly into the candle jar to avoid air bubbles. Then the candle needs time to set, so customers can head out to explore South Street and return later to pick up their completed item.
When Yu isn’t at Loomen, he has a day job as an engineer with the Department of Defense, running electrical testing on nuclear submarines. Yu, a Chinese immigrant, lived in Pittsburgh before studying at the University of Delaware, and Cook grew up in Detroit. But the two met nearly five years ago in Virginia Beach.
At the time, Cook had been studying professional writing at Old Dominion University, and Yu was working at the Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virgina. The two quickly bonded over their different backgrounds.
“We were kind of just exploring the diversity in each other’s culture,” Cook said of their early relationship. “That kind of really evolved into him showing me more about food and how that affects his culture…and so that’s kind of what we do in a lot of our free time.”
Cook and Yu moved to Philadelphia when Yu got transferred for work — and decided to make it their home. “Once we got to the city,” Yu said, “I kind of just fell in love.”
The business they created together is eco-friendly. Everything is plastic-free and zero-waste, the proprietors said, from the biodegradable soy candle wax to the edible seltzer straws.
Plus, Cook and Yu said they put aside a portion of revenue from each reservation with the intention of planting a forest somewhere in the world. The goal is for patrons to eventually be able to adopt a tree from the “Loomen Forest” and receive updates on its growth.
Loomen Labs is open Thursdays through Mondays. You can book a session online.