“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
—Charles M. Schultz
Fortunately for Eastern Shore chocoholics (and those who love them) gratifying one’s appetite for the blissfully enticing confection doesn’t require either a plane ticket to Belgium or a Golden Ticket to Willie Wonka’s factory.
The means to satisfy those deep personal cravings or to tastefully express sweet romantic sentiments can be just as effectively and more conveniently sourced locally, in Stevensville.
A delectably happy accident led two chocolatiers, Bob Greeno of Oh My Chocolate and Suzy Gregson of Chesapeake Chocolates, to separately open successful shops in the community, each enjoying loyal followings which have continued to grow year after year.
Next month, Chesapeake Chocolates will mark 17 years as a favorite area fixture at 202 Island Plaza Court.
Gregson is also set to celebrate her 40th anniversary in the chocolate business.
Originally from Rockville, Md., she was hired at age 17 by a chocolate store initially for just two weeks, but stayed 23 years, helping to grow the company, located in D.C.’s famed Mazza Gallerie shopping emporium.
Bringing her know-how with her when relocating, Gregson developed specialties celebrating the Shore’s iconic images, including crabs, bushel baskets, lighthouses, chocolate labs, and even terrapins which have proven to be local favorites but also are shipped by the hundreds as wedding and trade show favors and Christmas presents.
To maintain optimal quality, Gregson tries to confine shipments to within the continental U.S. from October to April.
She also offers tips for travelers opting to carry her candies with them to bring gifts offering a taste of home.
“Pack them in a carry on case, and as long as you’re comfortable temperature wise, the chocolate should be OK,” she says, adding with a laugh that “If friends pick you up from the airport, be sure to pass the chocolates off to them immediately, that way your responsibility regarding melted chocolate is now in their hands.”
Greeno’s 18-year career crafting fine chocolates arrived as a surprising detour on his own life’s journey.
“My family owned a chain of gas stations,” he said. “We put the business up for sale, and the broker had a chocolate store available; I decided to take a chance. I literally went from everybody hating me in the gasoline business to everyone loving me in the chocolate business,” he laughingly recalls. Oh My Chocolate has been in its current location on Thompson Creek Road (next to the Cracker Barrel restaurant) for about five years.
Experience has taught both chocolate entrepreneurs that overall, hankerings usually follow a dependably seasonal calendar of demand.
Greeno notes a distinct annual slowdown each January for “the first two to three weeks,” a phenomenon he attributes to ritual New Year’s resolutions designed to avoid extra caloric indulgences.
But as the month ends, business noticeably picks up, culminating in a veritable feeding frenzy immediately before and on Feb. 14, which he described as his “single busiest day of the year.”
For “two straight days” Greeno is occupied by almost nonstop chocolate dipping of strawberries, fulfilling the specified desire expressed by the men who flock in like clockwork to avoid arriving empty handed on the day culturally deemed most romantic of the year.
At Chesapeake Chocolates the dunked strawberry delicacies are also in great demand, but so are the store’s signature cherries enrobed in dark chocolate (which complements them best, according to Gregson) and sought after year round.
Both owners agree that Valentine’s Day brings a rush of orders — cash and carry, according to Gregson, and a nonstop stream of last minute shoppers — again, primarily men.
Sprinkled throughout the year, anniversaries also create demand for tasteful love offerings.
At Chesapeake Chocolates, Gregson has enjoyed regularly playing secret culinary cupid to couples who have stayed in sync with the way to their significant other’s hearts year after year.
“It never fails,” she said, recalling how they place mutual orders separately, each secretly gifting the other their favorite chocolate treat, entrusting Gregson with keeping their clandestine request under wraps until reveal day.
Some of her senior “snowbird” clients who celebrate milestones while vacationing in Florida over the winter make sure their orders are placed well ahead of departure for packing along then presenting as an unexpected and therefore especially pleasant surprise.
Upon returning to the area in April, Chesapeake Chocolates is among their first essential stops.
At Oh My Chocolate, Greeno helps those in search of unique ways to toast sweet occasions by hand dipping wine bottles in chocolate, an idea he credits to his sister in Florida, who runs a thriving chocolate business “on the side” of a full time job.
Additional dipped delights he’s developed include an array of apples on a stick, and pretzel rods, most notably the bride and groom decorated varieties he now counts among his most popular offerings, especially on his website.
He’s dispatched the souvenir nuptial “noms,” which reportedly stimulate positive feedback for years, as far away as Texas, California, Alaska — and even in Tokyo, Japan.
Many of Greeno’s candied creations began with generic recipes he’s since reworked with his unique “spin,” including Buzz Bark, a slab of “really good” dark chocolate containing ground roast espresso bean.
“It’s like chocolate covered coffee beans,” Greeno says. “But those tend to be dry and get caught in your teeth; here there’s no dry bitter bean.”