Eden Fusman of West Orange stood on a small stool, watching as her marshmallow got bathed in a fountain of chocolate. It wasn’t long before the marshmallow was gone and the first-grader at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy had a telltale dark smudge on her chin to go with her smile.
Her mother, Arden, was busy picking out a selection of chocolates for Eden to bring to a friend’s home on Shabbat, while older daughter Raquel, a seventh-grader at the Livingston school, was sampling a truffle, a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy so fragile it is kept in the freezer.
“These are all pareve?” Arden asked with disbelief, pointing to the cabinet of chocolate treats, including dark espresso truffles, caramel truffles, chocolate-covered raspberry jelly rings, Viennese crunch, and other goodies.
On Feb. 12, the newest franchise of Chocolate Works opened in the Livingston Town Center outdoor pedestrian mall. It’s good news for chocolate lovers and maybe even better news for those who keep kosher: Owners Helen and Eugene Ra of Wayne decided it would be a smart business decision to make the store kosher.
“So many people asked for kosher, I decided it was worth the investment to switch everything over,” said Helen, who was rarely without a smile on her face when speaking with a visitor on a recent Thursday evening.
Unfamiliar with the intricacies of kashrut, they have a maven in the form of Deena Buechler, who had been sent by franchise owner Joe Whaley to help get them started, after training them at the Amsterdam Avenue franchise location in New York City. Buechler, a West Orange native, is a 2009 graduate of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston. She attended the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Brooklyn after graduating from SUNY Binghamton.
The Ras had already tried to talk Whaley into letting them take Buechler to work with them permanently but to no avail. However, when they decided to go kosher, he agreed they needed her knowledge and background. Buechler, who agreed to move back home to work for the Ras, has been handling the details of the store’s kashrut ever since, not to mention serving as the manager of the store.
Whaley’s family has owned the Fifth Avenue Chocolatiere in Manhattan for over 40 years. He started Chocolate Works in 2009 with a factory and corporate store in Valley Stream, NY. The first franchise opened in Scarsdale, NY, in 2011, followed by franchises in Manhattan, Commack, Bellmore, Manhasset, and Rockville Centre, NY.
Buechler contacted her family’s rabbi, Eliezer Zwickler of Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David, who also happens to be one of the three copresidents of the Vaad Harabonim of MetroWest NJ, on Friday, March 21, just in time for the March 23 grand opening celebration. Everything in the store, both what is delivered from the Chocolate Works factory in Valley Stream and what is made in house, is certified kosher. Buechler estimates that about half the store’s customers want kosher chocolate. “There’s no place like this that’s kosher around here,” said Buechler.
Word travels fast. Asked what brought them into Chocolate Works, Arden Fusman said, “We heard it was kosher!”
The shop sells truffles of dark, milk, and white chocolate in traditional flavors like coffee and raspberry, but also offers some more exotic flavors like banana and amaretto. (Most of the truffles are dairy.) There’s “penny candy” and ice cream, and an item known as chocolate-covered peanut butter heaven is “outrageous,” as Buechler put it.
The store also has a party room for both children’s birthday parties and grown-up evenings. Adults can bring their own (kosher) wine to these private affairs.
Helen Ra is learning plenty about kashrut from the process, although it wasn’t entirely foreign to her. “I’m a Baptist and I read the Hebrew Bible,” she said. During a conversation about Purim, Helen demonstrated that her knowledge also goes beyond the Torah. “Oh, yes, I know Purim,” she said. “Esther, right?”
Chocolate Works will be selling kosher-for-Passover chocolates in sealed packages, certified by the Vaad.
As Raquel took the package of chocolates wrapped in a purple ribbon from Buechler, Arden turned to a visitor and whispered, “Oh, I hope they do really well here.”