DAYTON, Ohio -- Freshly made, high-quality chocolates painted by hand are selling briskly at the new chocolate shops at Dorothy Lane Markets.
Following a year of selling the chocolates packaged, the independent retailer decided to open service chocolate shops in the bakeries at Dorothy Lane's two stores. There, chocolates are displayed in 4-foot glass cases that are maintained at 67 degrees Fahrenheit -- the optimum temperature for keeping the rich candies in top form, according to Dorothy Lane's candyman, local chef-turned-chocolatier, Ghyslain Maurais.
Milk chocolate turtles filled with caramel and a variety of nuts; chocolates with amaretto, hazelnut, coffee and other fillings; as well as truffles, are among the candies selling at $1 per piece. The stores sell the chocolates in four sizes of boxes, ranging from one or two pieces to one pound, said Scott Fox, director of bakery operations for Dorothy Lane. Four to six pieces per purchase are the average.
Fox didn't know what to expect in terms of sales when the chocolate shops opened, though the early results look promising. In the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, the chocolate shop at the Centerville store sold 600 pieces.
"I'm pretty happy about that," Fox said.
Opening chocolate shops seemed like a logical move for the customer service-minded retailer. "It fits our company," Fox said. "Service is what we do in our bakeries and delis."
During a promotional event, Maurais made the chocolates inthe store and customers sampled them. Dorothy Lane plans to have him back in April prior to the Easter holiday, Fox said.
The retailer carries about two dozen varieties of chocolates produced by Ghyslain Chocolatier. Canadian by birth, Ghyslain Maurais, his wife, Susan, and one employee keep the chocolate shop humming at a renovated rental house on the couple's farm in Union City, Ind., about an hour from Dayton.
A small shop, which is open to the public, can be found at the entrance to the house. The kitchen is equipped with everything required to make chocolates, including molds, work tables, storage racks and tempering machines. Tempering, a method of melting and cooling candy, gives chocolate its shiny luster.
Unlike many commercial chocolates found on grocery shelves, the chocolates here are quite fresh. Maurais said he makes the chocolates and delivers them to Dorothy Lane's stores within 48 hours of receiving an order. The chocolates are best if consumed within a month, he said.
Maurais and his assistant use cocoa butter and a special coloring product to paint up to 100 chocolates an hour, working with brushes or a gloved finger. Chocolates come in a range of colors, including reds, yellows, whites, greens and blues. Very few chocolatiers paint their candies by hand, said Maurais, who researched the market before launching Ghyslain Chocolatier in 1999.
Maurais got started in the culinary business working as a chef in embassies in New York and London. In his free time, he took classes in chocolate schools in Paris and Switzerland.
While the candies decorated with hearts, dots and other fanciful patterns are eye-catching, the quality of the product sets his chocolates apart, he said.
The chocolatier said he uses an expensive French chocolate, available only to professional candy makers. The filling is a ganache made of half cream and half chocolate. According to Maurais, the cocoa content in his chocolates is much higher than what's commonly found packaged in stores.
"What makes our chocolate different is the low content of sugar," he told SN. "There's no sugar added to the filling. What a lot of companies use is fondant," a sugar and water combination. "Our chocolates are richer, but theirs are very sweet."
Most of his chocolates are made with milk chocolate, a nod to America's preference for the sweet, creamy flavor. Europeans, however, prefer dark chocolate. Dorothy Lane customers will get a taste of it when he introduces a line of dark chocolates in the fall, Maurais said.
Slowly but surely, Maurais is building his young business. Northern New Jersey residents got a taste of his chocolate during last year's Christmas season, when Maurais introduced his treats at the two Wegmans stores in Bridgewater and Princeton.
To better market the chocolates, Maurais plans to develop a package design this year bearing his company's name, address and some information on the product inside. He wants to increase the number of high-end supermarkets that carry his product. That presents a challenge, he said, noting his chocolate is unique. Selling it takes a little extra effort.
"You need to get into a place where they put a lot of attention to their customers," Maurais said. "Our product is not like a [chocolate] bar people pick and put in their pocket."