The Mars'halo fits snugly in a standard mug. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]
LAKEVIEW — Lindzi Shanks and Kat Connor have the solution to a problem most people didn’t know they had.
It’s called the Mars’halo — pronounced marsh-HAIL-oh — and it’s a doughnut-shaped marshmallow that fits perfectly inside a mug of hot chocolate. Square peg, round hole no more.
The Mars'halo melts slowly and evenly in warm liquid, yet holds up on its own should you treat it like an actual doughnut. (It is 100 percent marshmallow, not a doughnut hybrid.) It will not bop you on the nose when you take a sip, as a square-cut or standard cylindrical marshmallow does. You can put a straw through its center.
“I found people will take a big bite of it,” Connor said. “I also found you can dunk it if you want."
No one can dunk or bite a Mars’halo quite yet. Shanks and Connor, both 26, developed the treat for a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month to expand their fledgling marshmallow company, XO Marshmallow, which is based out of two places — a Ravenswood Avenue workroom that’s home to Shanks’ other business, The Trendy Sparrow, and a small kitchen at Wired Coffee House in Lakeview, owned by Connor’s parents.
Now, having surpassed their crowdfunding goal of $5,500, they’re in the process of moving production to Wired’s second location in Evanston, from which they will roll out the Mars’halo in early November.
Shanks plans to announce the confection's exact launch date on Instagram, her preferred social media channel.
Lindzi Shanks, co-owner of XO Marshmallow, holds the soon-to-debut Mars'halo. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]
It has been a good month for their business. A day after their Kickstarter campaign ended, Connor and Shanks won the food and drink category in RedEye's Big Ideas Awards contest, which highlights local entrepreneurs.
At the Oct. 14 ceremony, they manned a table laden with s’mores, hot chocolate and Mars’halos.
“We were just sort of mobbed the whole night,” said Connor.
“Our marshmallows did the talking for us,” said Shanks.
In their XO partnership, Connor is the marshmallow maker and Shanks is the marketer and photographer. As with most entrepreneurs, their path to marshmallow peddling was neither direct nor intentional.
Connor has a law degree from Marquette University, and Shanks a master’s in psychology from the University of Chicago. This time last year, the two women didn’t know each other.
To make money while in school, Shanks started an online shop, selling home decor, mugs, T-shirts and other gifts of her own design. She quickly found more appeal in running the business than in writing papers in pursuit of her doctorate, and in June 2014 she took The Trendy Sparrow full time.
Last November, Shanks won Block 37’s annual pop-up shop contest, which gave her business a boost in the form of a second-level spot in the State Street mall for the holiday season.
Connor was among those Shanks interviewed as a temporary staffer for the pop-up.
Getting past the pleasantries, Connor mentioned her own side gig making marshmallows in fun, boozy flavors for her parents’ coffee shop, just the sort of sweets Shanks thought fit The Trendy Sparrow style and brand. Connor made Champagne marshmallows for the pop-up's run.
“Between my coffee mugs and Kat’s marshmallows, they were just flying out the door. I realized there was something magical here, and so I approached Kat about turning this into a partnership,” said Shanks.
In March, the duo launched XO Marshmallow’s online store.
XO Marshmallow's lineup includes booze- and fruit-infused marshmallows. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]
Their pillowy, square-cut treat comes in such flavors as honey bourbon and mango habanero. They're for sale at WineHouse, 3164 N. Broadway; Plenty Grocery, 2036 W. Division St.; and Wired, 3508 N. Broadway, where they also top a toasted marshmallow latte. A box of 12 is $7.95.
Shanks’ retail experience has helped land wholesale clients in eight other states, from Washington to Oklahoma to Florida. And Connor’s law school background has come in handy, for instance when forming their corporation and working through intellectual property issues.
The Mars’halo was an accident. Connor simply had leftover marshmallow batter and a doughnut pan.
They initially called it a Monut, but changed the name to prevent any confusion.
“We didn’t want people thinking they were actually a marshmallow-doughnut hybrid,” said Shanks.
Plus, on the internet they came upon a North Carolina bakery and cafe called Monuts Donuts. It serves much more than doughnuts and no doughnut-shaped marshmallows as far as they can tell, but better safe than sorry, said Connor.
Until recently, Connor was making marshmallows with a 4½-quart stand mixer suited for a home kitchen.
“I don’t even think they make them that small anymore,” she said.
They bought a new, bigger mixer to handle the spike in orders from all the recent exposure and for what they anticipate will be a busy holiday season.
The Mars’halos will be in rotation at their next pop-up shop alongside other woman-owned businesses at Block 37. It will run from Nov. 25 through Jan. 1.
The Mars'halo, formerly the Monut, melts gently into hot chocolate. [Lindzi Shanks/XO Marshmallow]
Kat Connor, co-owner of XO Marshmallow, handles marshmallow production. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]
Lindzi Shanks (l.) and Kat Connor work out of a loft that's headquarters to Shanks' other business, The Trendy Sparrow. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]
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