“They say crayons are nontoxic, but do you really want to shove wax in your body?”
That was the thought process when Marine Corps veteran Frank Manteau co-founded Crayons Ready to Eat – turning a military joke (or insult, depending on who’s asked) into a chocolate reality.
“If Marines are actually eating these things [crayons] and other branches are cracking the jokes on it, let’s make something that not only can be a joke novelty, that can be a phenomenal gift, but it tastes good, it’s delicious, as well as it’s functional,” said Manteau, who served from 1995 to 2002. “Nobody’s done chocolate that you can write with until we did it.”
Around 2016, Manteau began seeing memes and cartoons online calling Marines crayon eaters. Then he saw a video of a Marine Corps officer “eating actual crayons” at a Marine Corps ball.
“I was like, ‘OK, maybe there’s something to this nonsense. Maybe we’re now called crayon eaters,’” Manteau said. “There has been an acronym that’s gone around that ‘Marine’ stands for ‘muscles are required, intelligence not essential.’ So all right, we’re crayon eaters now.”
But it wasn’t until about a year later, while completing a woodworking project for his childrens’ high school color guard team, that he got the idea for edible crayons. While building a “giant frame” – requested to be bright, colorful and large enough to jump in and out of – he determined crayons would be the best medium for color.
“I’m in about day four coloring this thing, and I switched colors. I put a crayon in my mouth, started coloring another one, and I literally started gnawing on the crayon,” Manteau said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, wait a minute. Maybe there’s something to the crayon eater nonsense.”
So he started researching and contacted Cassandra Gordon, a former coworker with pastry chef schooling. At the time, Gordon had never created chocolate that doubled as a writing instrument.
“I think it was like a week later, I sent [Frank] a video of this horrible-looking crayon … It does color but it’s really faded,” she said.
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Though she said a non-disclosure agreement prevents her from discussing how she created the product, the fact that she did still blows her mind.
“I can’t believe I even came across it on my first try … It’s something kind of simple, and no one else had thought of it yet,” Gordon said.
Gordon and Manteau fine-tuned their product in relative secret – with the exception of family – for about a year.
The moment they mentioned their product to the military community, Manteau said the response was “unbelievable.”
“They liked the idea, the fact that a joke is brought to reality,” Manteau said.
Since launching in 2018 and selling locally in San Diego, California, Crayons Ready to Eat has outsourced manufacturing and now ships nationally. Manteau credits Clubhouse, a social audio app that allows communication in chat rooms among thousands of people, with its growth.
He connected with fellow veterans, service members and people in the business industry, leading to establishing an LLC in February 2021.
Crayons Ready to Eat also secured a contract with the military-focused clothing line Grunt Style. Manteau and Grunt Style founder Tim Jensen connected through a Warrior Rising business shower in San Antonio, where Jensen committed to a 10,000-unit order to put products in its retail stores, according to Manteau.
The commitment left the Marine veteran speechless.
“To actually have a company like that see the potential in us and want to be able to place that big of an order with us right off the bat was unbelievable,” Manteau said.
And on March 1, Manteau and Gordon launched MilTreats Inc. – which will house Crayons Ready to Eat, along with other military items. Packaging will feature QR codes that lead consumers to product pages detailing the history of the items.
The goal, according to Gordon, the daughter of an Army veteran, is to “bridge the gap” between the military and civilians.
“We want to educate people on the military because even though I come from a military family background, I don’t know a lot of the stuff they’re talking about,” she said.