Pittsburgh Sweet Pittsburgh: Steel City Chocolates
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 00:10
A 6-foot-3, 260 pound tattooed chocolatier is an unusual sight, but Christopher George, owner and founder of Lawrenceville’s Sinful Sweets candy shop, is not the only unusual feature of the store.
Since Sinful Sweets’ 2011 opening, George has developed several new candies, including mixes of chocolate and pop rocks, chocolate and bacon, and dark chocolate wasabi bars. These unusual combinations, alongside his homemade toffees, have become some of his best-selling creations.
In creating new products for his store, George reinvents existing candies to give them his personal touch. He referred to his adaptation of chocolate covered gummy worms prevalent in other candy stores: white chocolate and sour gummy worms.
“I just like being creative,” George said. “Keep it interesting.”
Sinful Sweets is not Pittsburgh’s only local chocolatier. According to owner of Betsy Ann American Chocolatiers Karen Paras, this West View-based company offers patrons a uniquely customizable chocolate
Betsy Ann customers, ranging from individuals to corporations, can commission personalized chocolate creations that are used for anything from holiday gifts to decorations for large events. Past clients include Kennywood Amusement Park, the Steelers and the Air and Space Museum, which commissioned miniature chocolate airplanes and moon rocks to celebrate the arrival of a new exhibit last spring.
Founded in 1938 out of the original Betsy Ann’s Northside home, Betsy Ann American Chocolatiers is still centered in Pittsburgh, producing chocolate in its West View factory and selling out of its two North Hills retail stores. Betsy Anne chocolates are also sold in over 100 locations throughout the city, including Macy’s department stores, Hallmarks, Sam’s Clubs, Rivers Casino and the Fairmont Hotel.
Despite producing its chocolate in a factory, Betsy Ann is still a family-run company that honors the tradition started by the original Betsy Ann, Paras said. Treats such as the cordial strawberries, slow pokes and peanut creams are still hand-dipped in accordance with Betsy Ann’s recipes.
“Everything is so fresh. We don’t make big batches and let them sit,” Paras said. “Each truffle, everything, is done by hand. One by one, each candy is dropped into a mold.”
Sinful Sweets boasts a similar dedication to hand-crafted candies and chocolates, George said. All products are hand-dipped, poured, and molded at their store, something that large, factory-driven chocolate companies can’t manage.
“People have all these machine-poured and molded candies,” George said. “I like the imperfection of my candy. I try to keep that whole motif of being different.”
According to George, the small size of his business offers customers a more “intimate” environment in which he gets to discuss his products directly with the clientele. This personable approach, as well as his dedication to hand-crafting all of his products, are aspects of Sinful Sweets that he would like to maintain when he moves to his new location at 901 Penn Avenue this November.
“My goal as I grow larger is to always make hand-dipped chocolates here,” George said.
Despite its factory production, Betsy Ann’s has been able to maintain its identity as a family business, relying on traditional recipes and hand-produced chocolates to solidify that image, Paras said.
Another prominent Pittsburgh chocolatier dedicated to preserving its modest roots is Edward Marc, supplier of East Carson Street fixture The Milkshake Factory, a company still run by fourth generation descendants of the original Edwards family founders.
Set to celebrate its 100 year anniversary in 2014, Edward Marc utilizes original family recipes for its classic treats such as the vanilla salted caramels, pecan terrapins, and meltaways they have sold since their opening, said Milkshake Factory manager Denise Beloncis.
“Just the fact that we are located in Pittsburgh, that we’ve been going on for 98 years, that should tell you something [about our quality],” Beloncis said.
All products shipped to Edward Marc’s three retail locations, including the syrup for the milkshakes unique to South Side’s Milkshake Factory, are hand-made at the company’s Trafford factory.
The fact that the products are factory-made does not detract from the quality, Beloncis said, adding that all the products are labor-intensive and meticulously checked for quality before they are sent to the stores.
“[The recipes] are passed down from generation to generation,” Beloncis said. “The quality is so high. The standard in the factory is so high. Anything that is cracked or scratched we don’t put on display.”
According to Beloncis, it is the company’s dedication to quality even as it grew that made it so successful.