The Amazing Exclusive Story Behind the Creation and Rise of Charlie’s Chalk Dust
Written By Angela Lopez, Editor.
Charlie’s Chalk Dust producers of the finest vapor liquid crafted to perfection.
Rising from the Dust of Addiction
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then is the road to heaven ablaze with all our bad decisions? In this case, yes! Charlie’s Chalk Dust is an E-Liquid that needs no introduction. They have been consistently producing premium e-juice for years. Coming off their 2017 ECC “Best in Show” award for Mr. Meringue, Charlie’s Chalk Dust has now released the new highly anticipated Stumps ejuice line. Unlike those original head turning matte bottles, the story behind Charlie’s Chalk Dust is not just black and white. The real story behind the birth of this brand is much seedier than the sophisticated mustached door-to-door salesman on those bottles would have you think.
I had the opportunity to interview the creator and CEO of Charlie’s Chalk Dust to discuss the release of the deeply personal Stumps line. Getting to peek behind that curtain was a story too titillating not to tell. Brandon Stump is the face behind Charlie’s Chalk Dust, and he’s not just any face anymore. He has put his face and the faces of the people closest to him, on the Stumps line. This is an e-liquid line that was years in the making. This line comes with a backstory that personifies Brandon Stump as a true rags-to-riches tale. The creation of this line, and this company, comes with a past that Brandon was all too happy to share when I spoke to him. In this interview, I got the skinny on some heavy topics.
When you first speak to Brandon Stump, you can fully understand his reputation. He comes across as energetic, eager, playful, and a little bit cunning. You know that he is working an angle, but are too intrigued to seek the truth. You want to know this person. He is a natural born salesman and sells you on himself quickly. He is fun. It is in his voice, it is in his lifestyle and in his swagger. He is a charismatic person that could talk someone into anything. He immediately wants to be in charge; and, why shouldn’t he be allowed to play that role? He has more than earned it, because getting to the level he has attained did not come easily for Brandon. It was this upbeat, alpha personality that got him here. Behind that upbeat alpha personality there is a dark past. This is a story of heavy drug addiction, drug dealing, living out of cars, overdoses, relapses, and some very dark years.
Brandon is in no way shy about sharing this part of his life, because without it we might have never known who Brandon Stump even was. Without this part of his life, there would have never been a Charlie’s Chalk Dust either. People with addictions are very skilled on how to get what they want. If you are a serious drug user, you need to be able to talk yourself out of some difficult situations. You also need to be able to talk people into helping you continue the habits that get you into the difficult situations. This makes for an excellent learning experience on how to get people to do what you want. So, how do you interview someone with a dominant personality that likes control, and knows how to work someone? You do not. You let them talk, and you let them take you on an incredible journey down memory lane. To be the passenger staring out of the window into the good, the bad, and dirty details of his life makes for one heck of a ride.
The bulk of Brandon’s story takes place in the picturesque town of Costa Mesa, California, commonly known as The O.C. (Orange County). The same O.C that produced a popular reality TV show about bored wealthy teens living life to excess also produced Brandon Stump, the business man. Born in 1985 in Cleveland, Ohio, Brandon grew up with a stable, loving family that he is proud of. He is the oldest of four children and has a brother and two sisters. His father sold copiers and digital printers. door to door with three of his friends and then transitioned into selling IT software. He had a stay at home mother He liked school but wasn’t crazy about education and grades, but loved the extracurricular activities. He was heavily involved in basketball, football, and lacrosse.
Meeting Brandon there are no signs that would lead you to picture him as someone who has struggled with serious drug addiction. He was just your average human living his life, when drugs came into play. His addiction to drugs began slowly, like any addiction does. His drug use started during High School. He barely squeaked by enough to graduate and lost his place on all his sports teams. He showed a lot more interest in the drinking and drug scene than the school scene very early on. He entered college with his drinking and drug habits fully developed, or as he calls it “being an avid drug user”. He got kicked out of college during his third year. By this point his addiction to opiates had turned into a heavy Heroin addiction.
While most of his friends were still in school with their eyes on the finish line, Brandon was out of college and back home at the age of 21. This made him somewhat despondent. He was starting to wonder what was going to be his next step in life. With no immediate answer to that question, Brandon ended up delving deeper into something that was already all too familiar-Drugs. He was not only using drugs at this point, he was also selling drugs. With his day to day life consumed with cocaine and heroin use, Brandon started to become very familiar with the rehab and relapse roller-coaster that addicts spend a good portion of their time on.
Brandon knew that he needed to get out of Cleveland. In 2007, he made the decision to leave Cleveland and move to California for a sixty-nine-day rehab program. If you are thinking that California would not be a good place to get sober you would be correct. Brandon left the rehab program but stayed in California and continued to use Heroin. The term “partying like a rock star” would absolutely define his time as a young Californian with a daily Heroin addiction. Still in his early 20’s, Brandon learned the best way to use his talents as a young, enigmatic, smooth talking drug addict in California was to hone his skills as a grifter. After all, if you can’t talk circles around people, how do you expect to be able to keep up your addiction? Brandon, knew early on that he had a talent for working people, much like a door to door salesman. We all know the type. You for sure don’t need what they are selling but they know how to talk themselves inside for at least a glass of water.
On August 3rd, 2010 Brandon was living out of a 1989 Nissan Altima that had two hundred and seventy-six thousand miles on it, expired tags that was registered to a guy that lived in Ohio. Brandon does not seem to have an iota of shame about this time in his life living on the streets. He sounds a little more angered about it. I supposed when you are a young drug addict who has let things get completely out of control, but you are a person who craves control, you blame the only person with as much power as you associate with yourself; God. Where has he been this whole time? Noticeably absent from the Brandon Stump story, or maybe there the whole time biding his time for a good old-fashioned wake up call.
Brandon decided to call his bluff, in a way that you have heard in every story of this kind. It’s a cliché for a reason. Because we have all asked it in any circumstance that absolutely baffled us. “God, if you are even out there, you would come into this car and do something because I’m probably going to be dead in the next three days. I don’t believe you exist, and if you do please get off that cloud you are living on, come into this car, and do something because I’m going to die.” Brandon was clearly sure of the broken state of his life, and that he had probably used up most of luck he had come by. If, at this point, you are expecting a light, an apparition, or something to make this movie of the week seem extra on point you’re going to be waiting a while. God, may have worked in a mysterious way on this one, because it seems like the next morning Brandon relied on sheer will to change his current situation.
After a night of sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Brandon woke up and entered the cafeteria. What would happen next is a lot less come to Jesus and a lot more using his own experience as a con to push him the right direction. After ordering a cup of coffee and trying to charge it to a random room just to be completely rebuffed, Brandon realized that someone had put the muzzle on his hustle. No one was buying it anymore. After 25 years of hearing the word yes, he wasn’t too overjoyed with finally being told no, and what that would mean for his future. Still no instantaneous change though. He decided to try another location.
Fast forward a drive to the Alano Club, where he was pretty sure someone might still be willing to play along at least long enough for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Once his drive to the club was over, he looked at himself in the mirror and realized his metaphorical drive to get high was gone too. He did manage to get that cup of coffee and cigarette, but also in that moment, he decided to do something new today. He told himself “Hey, Brandon, let’s do something different today. Let’s stay sober for at least one day.” Since that day he’s managed to stay clean and sober. It would be easy to leave the story there and let Brandon rest on his laurels. What more could you want then to finally be free of your vices? Brandon Stump wanted more. He spent so long making bad decisions that he was finally ready to start making some good ones.
Getting Sober and the Creation of The Ohio House
With no money in his pockets, he went into a seven-day cold turkey detox program. It was here Brandon would perform one act of kindness that would then spark a need to continue down this path. At first, he was dealing with his own issues of trying to get clean, and how sick quitting drugs was making him. Someone at the detox facility told him “Brandon, let’s try and be grateful and help someone else.” Being so early in his own recovery, Brandon wasn’t thinking much about other people. He was trying to maintain his own sanity and start working on himself.
The third day in would mark the day that sparked a change in Brandon Stump, when he saw a girl with a broken arm and black eye. The facility made you wait in a long line to get your lunch tray, and after getting it you would then sit down and eat it. Brandon’s attention was focused on this girl that seemed to need help, so he approached her and asked her a question. “Do you want chicken or fish?” She responded back, “Chicken”. Brandon waited in the long winding lunch line and got her chicken and a glass of milk and took it to her. Up until this point, Brandon was so sick from the drugs leaving his system he hadn’t even eaten, but he got back in line and waited for his own meal, and once he got it he sat down and ate the entire thing. Internally, he was beaming about how good it felt to help another person. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a start and I’m sure it wasn’t a small gesture to her. He realized in that moment that he wanted to do more good deeds.
Within a couple months, people he knew from Ohio that he used to get high with saw him, and immediately noticed the change. They were, of course, curious. He let them know he was now clean and sober. They were not as fortunate and were still using. Brandon decided to get them out to California and show him what he had been up to.
Brandon, now with a grown-up job selling airplane parts, rented a three-bedroom home and moved a couple of his friends in with money he had saved up. All three of them were living in this house that began being jokingly referred to as “The Ohio House” due to its three Ohio residents. This would become an extremely important turning point of Brandon’s life down the line. While they were all living in this house, Brandon made it his mission to show the residents of “The Ohio House” how he became clean and sober. He was successful. Brandon ended up with a year sober, and the other residents were right on his tail with seven months sober. Brandon’s phone started ringing off the hook from people interesting in getting a bed in this house, so they too could get on the right track. He began taking these people in and helping them out. After a while, Brandon managed to fill up three houses with people who were looking for a safe space to get clean. Brandon called his father and told him that he was considering making this his full-time job over selling airplane parts. His father gave him his blessing and told him “You just have to make it work”, and Brandon made it work.
He now has sixteen properties and helps over a hundred and twenty clients daily. He has The Ohio House that functions as a place for men to get the structure and support they need twenty-four hours a day. The Ohio House offers a brotherhood and a support system for people as well as offering activities like paintball, deep sea fishing, yoga, volleyball and more. He has an intensive outpatient treatment center called Buckeye Recovery Network where people get continued support. He also has an all female program called the Chadwick House. I’ll provide a list of links to these programs at the end of the article. He has over a hundred employees and these outreach centers have been in business for almost six years now and helped over four hundred people celebrate a year of sobriety. These facilities are all located in Southern California and are for people seeking long term treatment options.
Creation of Cosmic Charlie’s Chalk Dust
Although Charlie’s Chalk Dust comes with a charming story line about Charlie, the door to door salesman that was as slick as a freshly waxed floor (sound familiar?), the actual creation of Charlie’s Chalk Dust is probably the most simple part of Brandon’s story. With everyone vaping in California, Brandon was still smoking cigarettes. He wanted to quit smoking, and one of the men who had been in his program was a friend from high school who also happened to be a chemist. It’s a right place, right time, right friend scenario. His friend told him he knew how to make e-juice and if that was something he would be interested in doing. Brandon had been testing the waters with products available in local shops at the time. He admits they looked good, smelled good, tasted okay, but he wasn’t too impressed. By the afternoon he was back to smoking a Newport because he wasn’t finding anything that he loved. He decided he wanted to try and make something that he would love. He told his friend that he wanted to make some juice because he just wanted to quit smoking. Brandon decided he wanted to create some all-day vapes. Not niche products, but products that people wouldn’t get sick of, himself included.
Brandon and his friend spent six months perfecting their flavors just to quit smoking. The result was e-liquids that Brandon loved and that got him to finally quit smoking. They started making more and giving it away for free at The Ohio House to people who couldn’t afford to buy vape products, and he got them to quit smoking. He was giving it away for free at meetings and to recovering addicts when a local vape shop in Orange County took notice. They called him up and wanted to know what the unlabeled juice he was making was. He explained that this project was something that stemmed from him wanting to quit smoking. The vape shop told him that everyone loved his liquids. Brandon decided to meet the vape shop owner face to face. Despite having no brand, no site, no samples, and no product names Brandon still had one thing going for him; liquids that were becoming very well known in his area, and he had the can-do attitude to do something with nothing. If anyone could pull off doing something with nothing it would be Brandon Stump.
He sold that vape shop three hundred bottles that day! This would mark the birth of Charlie’s Chalk Dust! Within a week, the brand we know, and love had a name, and a super sleek classy look, thanks to a friend of Brandon’s who was an art director at a popular cosmetics company. He got this friend to quit his job at this popular cosmetics company for the fun of this new opportunity with a burgeoning company. He also had his best friend, who worked at a well-known mobile service provider, quit his job and come aboard. He found another friend and told him to quit his job selling newspaper ads and join the staff. Then came his brother, Rhino, his business partner at The Ohio House who Brandon brought into his new business venture. Rhino didn’t know what e-liquid was, but he was absolutely stoked to get to work on it.
They hit the ground running with what was initially called Cosmic Charlie’s Chalk Dust. Cosmic Charlie being the name of a Grateful Dead song, and Chalk Dust was a Phish song. The “Cosmic” was later dropped from the title to shorten the name, and to avoid any legal issues with Grateful Dead (hopefully I won’t have any either). Charlie’s Chalk Dust always stood out to me personally because when I first started vaping everything was in basic plastic bottles. Charlie’s packaging instantly pulled your eye with their classic black and white chalkboard theme and fancy bottles. Brandon says this is because when they first developed the product he described it as “elegantly smooth blends of savory and sweet flavors, and that Charlie’s personifies the simple things”. Because of this he decided he wanted to keep it black and white. This is what prompted the design of the matte black bottles, and the second product release of matte white bottles.
The main reason this product is such a standout is the simple flavor combinations that aren’t at all overly done. They are meant to be all day vapes, so they aren’t intense or over exaggerated, and that’s what makes them work so well. He notes Slam Berry and Dream Cream as prime examples of this simplicity that works as an all-day vape experience. They have a lot of flavors, and you may enjoy some more than others. You can’t dispute that all the flavors are so well executed though. If you are a die-hard Charlie’s fan you may have a hard time find all the flavors in one place, and a lot of people don’t know that Charlie’s is behind a lot of their favorite vapes. For example, did you know that Charlie’s Chalk Dust was behind Bake Sale, Campfire, and Mr. Meringue when they first came out? I didn’t either. With so many labels and lines it seems hard to figure out exactly what the company is about. Let me simplify that for you. It’s about quality products. With the vape shop boom it makes sense that they would want to provide a vast variety of products, and not keep to the same look for all of them. The seemingly inconsistent packaging also has to do with the fact that each line is distinct and has its own story, and therefore requires a completely different name and look. It’s also very difficult to find all the flavors through one vendor. You must do a little Nancy Drew work if you are an avid fan who wants to own every single flavor by Charlie’s Chalk Dust.
Since the release of the initial line, Charlie’s Chalk Dust has released a variety of lines that have generated more and more interest. They keep stepping up with more advanced flavor combinations that are wildly popular. The Mr. Meringue line being one of the most popular to date. Mr. Meringue is an award-winning flavor. What you don’t know is that a lot of these lines were in the making long before their release. When the FDA grandfather date was put into effect e-liquid had to be on the market prior to August 8th, 2016. Recently released Charlie’s Chalk Dust lines like Pachamama, the Mr. Meringue family, and Campfire were already made in preparation for a future release. Right before the grandfather date was going to go into effect Brandon had four more of his favorite flavors in mind.
They had been working twenty-two-hour days for months making these four flavors that, at the time, had no name. After speaking to his designer about what to do with these four unreleased flavors, and his designer told him they should base it on his 30th birthday present. Brandon’s girlfriend had gifted him some granola bars she made for him with his face and name on them, and this would put the brand in motion. These four flavors would become the Stumps line. The release of the Stumps line is an exciting topic because it is a deeply personal line for Brandon Stump. This is a line he literally, put his name on. Brandon never really wanted to put his face out there until now, but the timing and the product was right.
The Stumps line contains four distinct flavors all based on the people and experiences that Brandon Stump holds dear to him. Each flavor has an illustration and the year of birth representing the person the flavor is based on. There is “B”, which you will find the year 1985 on, which is a vanilla granola and honey comb flavor. The inspiration behind this flavor was Brandon’s girlfriend at the time. She had made him homemade granola bars that were vanilla and honey flavored because they were his favorite, and she had reached out to his designer to put his name and face on them as a present. His business partner, Rhino, is the inspiration behind Ginger Beer. He is Brandon’s younger brother, business partner, best friend, and a huge fan of ginger beer. Pops is a sweet and sour melon pop rocks flavor. Pops had recently sold his business and moved out to California, and he now works at Charlie’s Chalk Dust. Brandon describes Pops as a legend. He is a phenomenal father. A great example of how to be a man, how to treat a woman, how to conduct yourself in business, how to be a friend, how to stay loyal, and how to stay true to your word. He doesn’t believe in sacrifice or shortcuts just to get ahead. He believes in working hard and earning everything you get. He also happens to love melon pop rocks.
Don, who passed away last year, represents the authentic creamy and crunchy Cookie Butter flavor. Brandon’s says his grandfather, Don, was one of the coolest cats he ever met. He didn’t have any money, and he didn’t care. He worked at Goodyear, was in the Air Force, and went to war. He led a very simple lifestyle, but always remained, as Brandon puts it, “cool as the other side of a pillow”. Don lived in the same house his entire life. He went to a doughnut shop every single day at six in the morning by himself for his entire life, and he always came back with a box of doughnuts for everyone. Brandon went to this doughnut shop after Don had passed. When he told the proprietors who his grandfather was they knew exactly who he was talking about. They told Brandon that in the fifty years his grandfather went there, he never even had a doughnut. He just had one cup of black coffee, or a “mug black” as Don called it. Everyone at the shop loved him. The Don flavor is one of Brandon’s favorite flavors, and I must say it is mine too. A couple of weeks before Don passed away Brandon and one of his salespeople, Jordan, paid him a visit in Ohio. Jordan asked Don a poignant question. “What are the keys to life?” Without even thinking, Don gave a simple but prolific answer… “Smile and Be Happy.”
This would go on to be the slogan and entire vibe behind the Stumps line. They didn’t know it at the time, but Don would pass away two weeks later making the story behind the slogan even more special to Brandon since these would be Don’s last words to him. Brandon is looking to spread Don’s very special message all over the world with this packaging and this line. We don’t often get to hear the last words of our loved ones, and if we do they don’t always tend to be life changing and make for a charming, if not completely moving, story.
The Future of Charlie’s Chalk Dust
Charlie’s Chalk Dust is already such an iconic line. Pretty much everyone who vapes or is in the vape industry knows what it is. Unless you have been living under a vape rock, you have purchased, double clicked on, or seen something from this huge company. According to Brandon there is so much more to come from Charlie’s. They have a lot of products that haven’t been released yet that were made before the FDA deeming date was put into effect that you will see trickle down your feed in the future, and financially they are doing very well. So, well, in fact, February first they will be launching King Bellman, a brown sugar vanilla tobacco, in a black bottle. That same day they will also be launching Black Ice, a blackberry cucumber menthol, in a white bottle. He cites the original black and white Charlie’s line as the most consistent flavors. They have let some of the older flavors from the original line go and replaced them with new flavors, but the classics are still turning heads as a product that people are very familiar with.
Next on his list would be Pachamama, with Fuji Apple as its standout flavor, and the only candy e-liquid in the line. This line was inspired by one of Brandon’s trips to Bali where he and his team got to eat fresh fruit that came straight off the trees of Indonesia, and it’s a line he is very proud of due to its spot on tropical flavor and mass appeal. The Mr. Meringue line of course is also a best-selling product. So, I guess a better question is what do they make that doesn’t sell well? Hopefully none of us will ever have to find out, and I have no doubt that this company will keep surprising us with amazing e-liquids that will impress and satisfy even the most discerning vaper out there. The release of the Stumps line is just another milestone for Charlie’s Chalk Dust and Brandon Stump, the man behind the mythical legend of Charlie.
He works well with his family and considers every single person who works for him family. Every employee was brought on because they were in some way important in Brandon’s life. One can’t help but see the similarities between the background provided for the fictional character of Charlie, and another important person in Brandon’s life. His father. In the beginning I mentioned that Brandon’s father was a door to door salesman who did very well. I would imagine that the smooth-talking Charlie who is selling something that no one can resist is also somewhat based on Brandon himself. Making Charlie an amalgam brought forth from the imagination of a man who wanted to create someone likable after spending a good portion of his life probably not liking everything about himself. This makes the brand even more endearing to me and shows that redemption and success are often found in the most unlikely of places. Sometimes the truth is even better but much less believable than its fictional counterpart.
Now that Brandon has become one of the most prominent e-liquid manufacturers to date his sordid past of drug use and drug dealing serves as a lesson. It is all about the journey. It’s not where you have been, but where you are going. This is clearly a company that’s success is based on Brandon surrounding himself with a lot of good people who keep all the balls in the air, but we of course have Brandon to thank for steering the ship. He adds a little rock and roll to a brand that’s packaging may have had you thinking he was a suit sitting in a boardroom counting his money. The fact that he has invested so much in helping other people who are dealing with the things that he went through, shows that his past didn’t only instill discipline. It also provided him with conviction and character. Does he have fun? Of course, he does, but he works hard too. Although, to hear Brandon talk about it, work is more fun than anything else to him and the people who are there.
Brandon’s expectations for the future are simple. Keep up his grind and keep providing us with products that we will love from a company you can trust with an owner you cam look up to. To be only thirty-two and accomplish all Brandon Stump has already is impressive enough, but I highly doubt Mr. Stump would be satisfied stopping anytime soon. He has managed to catapult Charlie’s Chalk Dust into the limelight of a sometimes-fickle industry as far as products are concerned, but his past and his personality have made him impervious to quitting while he’s ahead.
He’s an extremely interesting person, and his past only serves to make his story more relatable and make him someone who has been through hell and back again and has captured that determination in a bottle. He is not the sort of person who would want anyone to feel sorry for his past because without it he might never have come to be what he is today. We all should empathize with it though, and hopefully this story can help anyone who is currently struggling with addiction. Make sure you check out Charlie’s Chalk Dust and all they have to offer. I would like to extend a huge thank you to Brandon Stump for allowing me to interview him for this piece and wish him and Charlie’s Chalk Dust nothing but luck in all their future endeavors.
“We’re going to look back when we are old and crusty on the days of Charlie’s Chalk Dust, because it will still be sold during that time, and we are going to be so proud of ourselves.”—Brandon Stump
If you or someone you know are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and are in the California area here is a list of the three programs Brandon Stump offers: