Erica Werber’s idea for a candle company came from one of her late father’s favorite New York things. “He very much loved the hot roasted nuts from the nut carts in Midtown,” she explained. After he passed away in 2018, she would visit the carts more frequently “just to kind of take in that smell that he loved so much.”
The Staten Island native wanted to bottle that unique scent, and when the pandemic hit, she launched Literie. Besides her initial candle, Hot Roasted Nut Cart, her first batch included aromas that give New York its character and charm such as 28th Street Flower Market, Afternoon in Central Park, Bodega Coffee and Soft Serve from the Corner Truck. “So it was just, ‘What are these scents that not only smell good, but so many people, whether you live here or you have visited here, can completely relate to and appreciate?’” she explained of her initial brainstorming.
Werber, 41, lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two children, who help with the scent testing and packaging. Her business, which was born in March 2021, has grown to include 17 scents, sold on her website and in city shops like Players Café on Bleecker and Showfields on Bond Street. Celebrity clients include Sarah Jessica Parker, who was recently gifted an appropriate offering. “We sent her our candle called Late Fees at the Library because she’s such a book lover,” Werber explained. “It’s a beautiful smell; it smells like paper.”
You started with Hot Roasted Nut Cart. How did the other scent ideas come about?
I started thinking, “If we’re gonna create candles, the nut cart scent is so iconic to New York. What other iconic New York scents can we create that would be pleasing?” New York isn’t always known for its good or positive scents, so those came to me pretty quickly. We thought about the 28th Street Flower Market or the first ice cream from a Mister Softee truck. Afternoon in Central Park, just walking in in the morning after they cut the grass. We started with that core group of scents.
What inspired Bodega Coffee?
One of my favorite things about New York is you go to the bodega near your home three times, and after that, you don’t have to speak to the man making your coffee. He knows your face; he knows your order. He doesn’t just know your coffee order, he knows your egg and cheese order. He knows whatever kind of weird things you want, and I think that’s truly special to our city. So I felt like I wanted to pay homage to them as well.
What do Pizza From a Guy Named Joe and Brunch in the West Village smell like?
We developed a candle that smells like a slice of pizza, but in the best way, so there’s strong notes of basil and tomato. Brunch in the West Village, we thought, “OK, a mimosa on a Sunday, champagne and citrus.” There’s nothing better than that when you’re with your friends.
Tell us about your connection to the boroughs.
How do I become the expert in making candles that smell like New York City? How do I know what New York City smells like? So I like to say I was born in Manhattan, at NYU Hospital, grew up on Staten Island. I met my husband in Little Italy. We got married in Battery Park. My kids were born on the Upper East Side; we live on the Upper West Side. And they go to school in the Bronx. And my parents grew up in Brooklyn.
What are your current bestsellers?
Always for summer, we have a candle called I Have a House in the Hamptons. And people just love that because its either aspirational or they’re heading out there to stay at a friends’ house or even their own home and it makes a great gift. Afternoon in Central Park always does fantastic. We launched a new one at the beginning of spring called Beers at the Ballpark. We dedicated that to the Mets and the Yankees without necessarily saying so. That’s our take the subway to either ballpark, get a bag of peanuts, obviously have a beer. And that’s been really great, especially for Father’s Day.
This May, you created your first New Jersey scent, I Have a House Down the Shore. What has feedback been like for that one?
The feedback on the scent has been amazing. It’s a mixture of saltwater and sunscreen, like an old-school Coppertone, coconut-scented sunscreen, you know, the cheap kind that still gave you a sunburn. I think it’s one of the best scents we’ve ever created. And I think the way we describe the candle on the back of the box is very Jersey Shore insider. So people have really been gravitating towards it. I don’t think a candle exists out there that’s really dedicated to people who really spend their summers on the Jersey Shore. It’s a good group of people who’ve been going there their whole lives and they have all their inside jokes and all the places they love to visit. And there’s so much to do, whether it’s the beach or the boardwalk. I went there as a kid quite a bit, so I feel like, again, I knew a little bit about that space.
Do your husband and children help with the business?
Absolutely. My husband happens to be a really big candle lover. When we’re developing a new candle, we get lots of scent samples because our lab doesn’t necessarily know which direction I want to go in. So when they arrive, the entire family wants to smell them and give their votes. And nobody ever votes for the same thing.
And school’s out now for my kids, so they are for sure helping. We had a custom project that we had to complete rather quickly, and they were putting the boxes together. I developed this company during COVID when we were all home together and they watched it turn from a hobby into a legitimate small business. And we could probably call it a family business, because they’ve had their hands in it so much. My son has shipped a few candles without the proper packaging and of course they arrived shattered, so I took that out of his paycheck. I kid. I kid.
In 2021, you played an April Fools’ joke with a subway candle.
We developed a candle specifically for April Fools’ Day called Summer in the Subway. And that candle is technically supposed to smell like hot trash. We didn’t actually create it, but obviously when we posted about it, people either quickly understood it was a joke or commented with “You have to be kidding me.” Some actually wanted to purchase it, which was so weird to me. And I think not necessarily to light it, but just to have as a conversation piece in their apartment. So we’ll think about actually making it, but maybe have it not smell like hot trash. [Laughs]