Peek in any Easter basket and you’re likely to find jelly beans, Easter eggs and lots of chocolate in every form imaginable–eggs, bunnies, chicks.
Chocolate, of course, is but one of the many things that Americans spend money on during Easter. The National Retail Federation in an annual survey estimated that U.S. consumers would shell out close to $18 billion on food, clothes, flowers and of course, candy, this holiday season.
In the days leading up to Easter, New York City’s chocolate shops were operating at full capacity.
“Christmas is our busiest season, Valentine is the busiest day,” said Bill Rhodes, the owner of See’s Candies in the West Village. But, “Easter is one of our busiest weeks.”
See’s Candies, founded by Mary See in 1921, is a nationwide retail chocolate chain. Legendary investor Warren Buffett bought the company in 1972 and the business now has expanded into more than 200 chocolate and candy shops across the country. Rhodes’ location at 60 W. 8th Street opened a year ago. He says the store’s best-selling chocolate during the Easter holiday were the chocolate eggs.
“All of our eggs are filled with different chocolate flavors inside. The reason people love our chocolate eggs is because we make it the same old fashion way that we make all the other chocolates,” Rhodes said. “We still make things the same way they were made 50 to almost 100 years ago.”
Business was also hopping at Viola Chocolate on West 79th Street on the days leading up to the holiday. “Easter is our second busiest holiday after Valentine Day,” owner Peter Moustakerski, adding that he could not reveal sales figures for proprietary reasons.
Moustakerski’s shop has been in the same location for the last three years and is known for allowing customers to custom design their own chocolate. “That is what is unique about Viola Chocolate not only do you buy the chocolate but you actually can make it yourself,” he said.
Viola Chocolate offers eight different chocolate-making activities, such as 3-D molded candy, chocolate bars, bark, dipped treats, lollipops, and truffles among others. They also have a special kids’ menu. It costs between $32 an $65 to make custom chocolates, for kids the prices are lower, from $22 to $29. Each activity lasts for about 45 minutes to 1 hour in a half.
When each customer enters Viola Chocolate they get to sample each flavor of chocolate. Then they choose what flavor they want to put in their custom candy. Viola’ employees provide each customer with the tools–molds, spoons, spatulas– they will need to make a chocolate pastry of their choice. .
When the customers make lollipops, for example, Viola’ provides the sticks, 10 clear wrappers, 10 bow ties, two round or heart molds and of course, chocolate, 12 ounces of it. Each customer is also provided with tubes that contain different sugar based toppings such as sprinkles, almonds, hazelnut, and other gourmet treats.
“This weekend [was] probably the busiest Easter weekend we have seen,” Moustakerski said.
On the Friday before Easter, a group of children and some adults were busy figuring out how to make a chocolate goodie inside the shop. The most popular choices: chocolate covered-Easter eggs and chocolate-sculpted bunnies.
“We do a lot of chocolate eggs with different designs. ” Moustakerski said, adding that the store packages them in egg cartons. “They look like real eggs, but they are chocolate.”
Most of Viola Chocolate’s customers come from the neighborhood, but tourists have discovered it as well, especially during holidays. Viola’ advises customers to make reservations if they would like to make their own chocolates. Viola Chocolate is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday. Their phone number is 212-920-8799.