A Marine veteran has spent the last several years trying to turn a joke at the Corps’ expense into a successful business, and it looks like he’s nearly there with Crayons Ready to Eat.

Created by Frank Manteau and Cassandra Gordon, Crayons Ready to Eat are not only edible, but writable chocolate crayons that come in a range of colors — though unlike those actual little color spears and waxy-practice-pencils, these have a triangular shape, and that’s by design.

“It’s so they don’t roll off a table,” Manteau said, and so “parents, [noncommissioned officers] and [staff noncommissioned officers] can say ‘this is okay to eat because of its shape,’ and ‘this one is not okay to eat.’”

They also come in packaging modeled after the military’s Meals Ready to Eat, hence the name Crayons Ready to Eat — and yes, a lot of this humor is on the nose, but considering that 90 percent of those reading this story will be Marines, I wanted to break it down Barney Style for my fellow ‘crayon eaters.’

Now, if you’re a little confused on some, or all of the above, and find yourself wondering: What does eating crayons — something you expect from a young child without adult supervision — have to do with being a Marine? Well, you’re not alone. Manteau was a bit lost back in 2017 when he learned that Marines had added ‘crayon eaters’ to an already long list of nicknames.

“When I was in the Marine Corps we were not crayon eaters,” said Manteau, a former infantryman who served from 1995 until 2002. “We were not crayon eaters,” he said again, just for emphasis. “We were jarheads, grunts, ground pounders, bullet sponges.”

The term, its mocking tone, and its origins piqued his curiosity, so he started to ask around “Where did this come from?” he wondered, but nobody knew. 

“I could not figure out how we became crayon eaters,” he said. And while there were plenty of memes, and even a few videos that referenced, or fully embraced the “Marines are dumb and eat crayons” joke, none of it explained how that came to be. Instead, he simply accepted it as the new normal for Marines; So long ‘Devil Dogs,’ we’re ‘crayon eaters’ now.

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So Manteau accepted the joke and wore it like a badge of honor “in true Marine Corps fashion,” he said. “We embrace every joke that comes at our expense and we will make it our own. We will laugh with you, not be laughed at by you.” 

Manteau is right after all: ‘Leatherneck’ and ‘Devil Dog’ are hardly laudatory nicknames; one is a reference to an uncomfortable uniform item that Marines long ago had to wear; the other, according to Marine Corps lore, was bestowed on World War I Marines by horrified German soldiers. And let’s not forget ‘jarhead’ which was most definitely meant to be an insult, but instead had to settle for being the third-best nickname.

As for how a joke about being in the Marine Corps is a lot like being in kindergarten segued into an idea for a business, well, that’s another matter. (Now, it’s worth noting that there have been other Marines who tried to turn the ‘crayon eater’ trope into a business, or at least a product, like the Marine vet who created edible crayons through her company, Okashi Sweets, though the venture appears to have been short-lived as the link to the site is now broken.)

Manteau, a carpenter by trade, said the idea began to take shape while he was working on an art project, and just so happened to find himself drawing on a piece of wood near a box of crayons. Without thinking, as he reached for a different color crayon, he put the one he was using in his mouth and began to chew.

“And then it hit me: Maybe there is something to people chewing on crayons,” he said. Naturally, the next thought was: Okay, so how do you make a crayon that’s meant to be gnawed upon? 

Immediately, Manteau called up Cassanda Gordon, a former colleague and pastry chef.

“Can you make chocolate writable?” he asked. “She said ‘yes,’ and that’s all I needed to hear,” Manteau said. 

By September 2017 she’d developed a working model for edible and writable crayons.

Eventually, they decided to just make the crayons at their homes in San Diego, Calif., like a mom and pop shop, but with more belligerence and camo. They spent time fine-tuning their vanilla-flavored chocolate recipe, redesigning their mold and the crayon’s packaging, and added a range of flavors and colors like Jarhead Red, Squid Blue, Dawg Face Green, Flyboy Yellow, Puddle Pirate Orange, and Space Cadet White.

And in September 2018, they were ready to get off the ground, and officially launched Crayons Ready to Eat that month.

Almost immediately, the orders started coming in. Before long they had hundreds of requests, and it was at that exact moment that the other shoe dropped.

Manteau was contacted by the San Diego County Public Health Department demanding that they cease and desist: They had no health permit and no food process registration, and were not certified to ship products over state lines.

“At this point, I’m crushed,” said Manteau, who freely admits that he was a novice when it came to working in the food industry. However, they were able to get a permit that would allow them to make their crayons, but only from their own homes.

Over the next year, they got to work selling edible crayons available for pickup in the San Diego area, and at markets and public events, only to have that plan derailed by the unexpected arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Now, Manteau and Gordon have put a hold on local sales as they refocus on getting licensed and certified so they can begin selling across state lines. To that end, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to drum up financial support to cover the startup expenses, facility rental costs, and assorted fees for certification and licensing.

“It amazes me that I’m at 43 now and nobody has thought of this idea, and it’s not every day that you’re able to create a product where you’re bringing a joke to reality.”

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