NEW YORK—While there is no medical evidence to suggest that chocolate works as an aphrodisiac, it has become a symbol of romance and love, making it one of the most popular Valentines Day gifts.
High quality chocolate is becoming an ever more sought after commodity, a fortuitous prediction that Joan Coukos made back in 2000.
Coukos had an epiphany about the future of chocolate while on a trip to Belgium—she decided to leave Wall Street and get into the chocolate business shortly after. In 2003 she started Chocolate Moderne, which is based out of New York but sells chocolate nationwide.
Coukos says Valentine’s Day is the second best holiday of the year for business. Christmas trumps Valentine’s Day only because it is a longer holiday, usually starting in November.
She says cold weather in general is better for her business—in summer she has to ship it express due to melting issues.
Currently she is busy preparing her special hand painted hearts, which look like marbles on the top and chocolate on the bottom and come in all shades of exotic colors. She says these are very popular on Valentine’s Day because of their shape, but unlike heart shaped boxes, they sell well all year long.
Kee Ling Tong, the owner of Kee’s Chocolates, said she starts preparing for Valentine’s Day two days in advance. Because she makes all her chocolates fresh that day, she cannot do much more in advance.
“We try to make a lot more. Maybe instead of 100 or 200 pieces we try to make 1,000 pieces to accommodate all the customers,” Tong said.
On Valentine’s Day the line snakes out the door and she said she can never make enough chocolates to meet the demand, even though she makes them all day.
Her crème brulée is by far the most popular item on the menu but on Valentines Day, her heart-shaped passion fruit chocolates sell best. She also has many savory chocolates, such as fennel and lemon basil, and tea-flavored chocolates like Jasmine and Earl Grey that she says come from her Asian heritage.
Tong may be an anomaly in the chocolatier world. She does not like chocolate herself and says she gets the staff to do the taste testing when needed. She also dislikes alcohol, another major ingredient in her craft, but says she loves the smell and that is enough for her.
Like Coukos, Tong used to work on Wall Street before she quit her job to do what she loved.
Even though she had a full-time job, she used to volunteer at a flower shop on weekends, her first love in the artisanal world. When she first opened shop she sold flowers and chocolates. When a flower shop opened next door, she quit selling flowers and now has three chocolate shops in Manhattan.
Tong estimates she sells about 60 percent more chocolates on Valentine’s Day than on a normal business day.
Steve Kravitz, the Director of Procurement at 2beans, estimated a similar sales volume on the Valentine’s Day. He says they hire about 30 percent more staff around Valentine’s to keep up with the demand, a demand that changes year-by-year depending on the economy.
La Maison du Chocolat also say they bring on extra staff this time of year, especially the week before when business starts to pick up.
L’Atelier du Chocolat staff said they do not need to hire extra staff, but have started preparing for the big day since last Monday.
Charles M. Schulz, the comic strip artist best known for his cartoon “Peanuts” once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
On Valentine’s Day, chocolate becomes an expression of love and is one of the few days of the year when eating chocolate is acceptable, no matter what your diet.
Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York.
*Chocolate photo from www.shutterstock.com