Jelly Belly founder to give away 'candy factory' — but there may be a catch

WATCH: Move over Willy Wonka — Jelly Belly founder David Klein is launching a controversial contest called 'The Gold Ticket.'

An eccentric, self-styled “Candyman” is giving away his old candy factory and running a contest involving gold tickets.

Sound familiar?

Jelly Belly founder David Klein appears to be following in the footsteps of Willy Wonka, the infamous candy mogul from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a golden ticket contest and plans to hand over his candy factory to one worthy successor. The factory supposedly belongs to Candyman Kitchens, as Klein has not worked at Jelly Belly for years.

Klein says he’s looking for his own Charlie Bucket, the hero of the Roald Dahl story who survived Wonka’s sadistic trials and became heir to his factory.

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“David is getting ready to retire, but not before he has some fun and not before he gives back to everyone who loves the candy industry like he does,” the contest company Tricky Treasures said in a recent news release announcing the contest, which has since gone viral.

The contest’s website, TheGoldTicket, crashed several times on Tuesday amid a flurry of interest and jokes about the story on Twitter.

Klein has not released any details about his supposed factory, nor has he actually made it a prize in his golden ticket contest. He also stands to make more than US$2 million through entry fees if the contest sells out, according to the numbers published on the website.

The site did not include a list of terms and conditions for the contest as of Tuesday.

This is the part where Wonka’s Oompa Loompas would sing you a song of caution.

Klein’s contest is an online and in-person treasure hunt for gold tickets (i.e. gold dog tag necklaces) that he plans to hide in each state. Participants must pay US$50 to unlock a clue to the ticket’s location in a given state, and whoever finds the ticket will get a prize “valued at $5,000,” according to the Tricky Treasures news release. It’s unclear if that means cash or something else.

“It’s gonna be a treasure hunt across the country,” Klein says in a promotional video for the contest, which he shot alongside partner Stephanie Marie Thirtyacre.

The pair have been hiding the tickets at locations with “interesting stories,” they say.

“We’ve already hidden quite a few of them. We’re going to be hiding them in every state,” Klein says.

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Anyone who buys a $50 riddle will be “eligible” for an “ultimate treasure hunt” to be held “after all the states have had a chance to play,” according to the contest rules. The prize for that later contest will supposedly be the factory, though it’s unclear where the factory is.

Klein is selling 1,000 tickets per state, according to Tricky Treasures. That means he could make up to $2.25 million if he sells every ticket and gives away a cash prize in all 50 states.

Klein does not specify which candy factory he will give away, but news reports show he opened Candyman Kitchens in Clearwater, Fla., in 2016, after moving his operation there from California. The store’s address is listed as 314 S Blecher Rd. on its Facebook page and on Trip Advisor.

However, Candyman Kitchens does not currently list an address on its website, and Google Street View shows a gym at the store’s old location. A land trust is listed as the owner of the property, which is worth about $428,000, according to tax records. The company’s owner told Global News that Klein no longer leases the property.

Another shop identified as Candyman Kitchens on Google can be found outside Interlachen, Fla. Google Street View shows a veterinary clinic at that location. It sold for $42,000 in 2019, according to a real estate website.

The Tricky Treasures newsletter lists its address as a P.O. box in Antony, Fla.

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The websites TrickyTreasures.com and TickerGold.com appear to be running contests similar to the one hosted at TheGoldTicket.com. Tricky Treasures and Ticker Gold also claim to be linked to Klein, who calls himself the “Candyman.” All three sites offer cash prizes through riddles that must be unlocked by obtaining tickets, either by paying for the riddles or simply requesting a ticket. They also mention the “ultimate treasure hunt” and a candy factory in Florida.

TrickyTreasures.com sold tickets for $10 with a $5,000 grand prize, while TickerGold.com was giving away tickets to win the profits from 100 shares of “Tootsie Roll stock.” All three sites link to the same YouTube page featuring videos with Klein and Thirtyacre.

As of this writing, It’s unclear if any of the contests have actually selected winners or handed out cash prizes.

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The Gold Ticket’s public Facebook page, which appears to be run by Thirtyacre, has racked up more than 37,000 members. The page has been around since 2015, and several old posts mention the famous treasure hunt run by Forrest Fenn, an art collector who buried gold in the wilderness and left clues in his autobiography.

Many users clamoured for help buying tickets on the page Tuesday, amid issues with the website. Some said they’d paid for tickets and did not receive them. Others suggested the contest was a scam.

A message on the website said the organizers had been hit with a “HUGE response,” and that they were trying their best to handle the orders, which might explain the backlog.

“Unfortunately there have been a few haters that are attempting to take away the fun,” Klein wrote in the Facebook group on Tuesday morning. “I believe in freedom of speech but to be called a scam is so wrong. … We will be removing members whose only intent is to take away any joy that this is giving anyone.”

Global News has reached out to Klein and Thirtyacre about the location of the factory and the various contests that use the Candyman name. They did not get back to Global News by the time of publication.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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