East-suburban businesses share ideas for Valentine's Day

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 5:12 p.m.

Valentine's Day gifts for that special someone can go two ways: warm the heart or cool the fire. So it's a good idea for those in love to get it right.

To help accomplish this task, some local people in pertinent businesses gave their take on what's hot for this Feb. 14.

“Eating a box of chocolates really provides that wonderful feeling,” said Chris Edwards of Edward Marc Chocolatier in Trafford.

Edwards said he, along with co-owners and siblings Mark and Dana, devised two perfect chocolate treats specifically for this year's Valentines Day: a passion fruit-caramel truffle, and a pomegranate-champagne truffle.

Both with unique and traditional elements, the passion fruit-caramel truffle has a passion fruit center, layered with homemade caramel and covered in milk chocolate. The pomegranate-champagne truffle has a pomegranate and champagne center covered in dark chocolate.

Each is a “perfect combination,” said Chris Edwards, whose great-grandparents started the chocolate factory in the early 1920s.

Keeping their Trafford factory roots, the family has since opened a retail shop in Monroeville and sells candy at The Milkshake Factory on Pittsburgh's South Side, which the family also owns. Chris Edwards, 35, of Hampton Township, said his family now sells its treats across the nation and has a Washington, D.C.-area store in the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

Such success comes from their product commitment, such as working months on creating just the right blend of ingredients for this year's special Valentine's Day treats to create that romantic feeling.

“It's a great expression of people's affection for each other … and great way to show their love,” Chris Edwards said.

What goes better with a box of chocolates than flowers? And as tradition goes, roses still are the most popular pick.

“Valentine's Day is very traditional. Roses are always the premiere item,” said Donna Toellner, a chef at Flowers in the Attic in Penn Hills. The business, owned by Ken Milko, offers a flower shop, gift shop and restaurant.

Toellner said prices vary dependent on the arrangement, and the flower shop also offers a budget-friendly “cash-and-carry” choice, which simply means no delivery.

She said flower buyers typically are men buying for their girlfriends, mothers or wives, and usually, they do it at the last minute.

Eric Belak, owner of Belak Flowers Inc. in Irwin, agreed, as he also receives a lot of late delivery orders.

And while there are many colors from which to choose, it's the reds that are most popular, said Belak, of North Huntingdon.

His biggest tip is that if someone wants to order flowers online, do it directly through a local florist, rather than a national service. The national services charge buyers for locating a florist in the area where the delivery will be made. If ordering straight from a local florist, whether online or by phone, the customer saves on that charge, said Belak, 48.

Despite the popularity of flowers on Valentine's Day, it isn't the holiday that provides the most revenue for florists. Both Belak and Toellner said Mother's Day usually is the busiest holiday for those selling flowers.

While buyers seeking flowers tend to take the traditional red-roses route for Feb. 14, the choices are broader with jewelry, according to Lenny Lithgow, a vice president for James Douglas Jewelers, which has locations in both Murrysville and Monroeville.

“Black and white diamond pieces can literally go with everything,” said Lithgow, citing one of the most recent trends in jewelry. He said there also is a surge of interest in color stones, such as pink and yellow diamonds, amethysts, sapphires and rubies.

“This time of year, everybody's taste is different especially dependent on their pocketbook,” said Lithgow, of Plum.

His stores tend to sell a lot of engagement rings at this time of year. And wishful proposers can relax, as the store will exchange the ring if the groom-to-be purchases the wrong size or style. The jewelers can design anything, ranging in cost from approximately $500 to $60,000, Lithgow said.

Rings aren't always the top jewelry pick for the holiday. Lithgow said many people choose to buy necklaces, bracelets or earrings. And watches also are a very popular Valentine's Day gift.

As far as gifts for his wife of 39 years, Lithgow, 60, said, jewelry is not always the obvious option.

“It just depends on what she happens to want,” said Lithgow, adding he usually ends up also giving her a piece of jewelry regardless.

Also, seeing its share of engagement rings on Valentine's Day is The Wooden Nickel restaurant in Monroeville, which was the site of two successful proposals last year, said Joe Bello, executive chef and general manager.

“So far, our track record is good,” he said.

Bello, of Penn Township, said he thinks people dine out on Feb. 14 because it gives them that special time to focus on one another.

“Valentine's Day always kind of has that romance factor to it. And people like to have a nice evening,” he said.

Bello, 29, said The Wooden Nickel now is under new ownership and has received some “dramatic” updates and remodeling over the past year. The casual fine-dining restaurant and lounge will offer a few specials for the holiday.

From Feb. 14 to 17, guests can share a three-course menu for $99 per couple that includes a choice of crab cake, New York strip steak or seasonal ravioli, along with dessert and a glass of wine, Bello said.

He said the restaurant also is featuring a selection of “sweetheart” bar drinks, one of which can be made with its homemade vodka infused with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Also, he said, it's not only a holiday for couples because he sees many families coming out to celebrate the day. And because Valentine's Day falls during Lent this year, a period when some people don't eat meat, the restaurant will have plenty of fresh seafood dishes available.

Couples and singles looking for a lively Valentine's Day experience can visit The Lamplighter restaurant in Delmont, which once again is having a holiday oldies dance party in its lounge, according to Debbie Crissman, a manager at the restaurant for 40 years.

“It's a lot of fun for couples and groups. We always fill the lounge,” said Crissman, of Salem Township.

Tickets cost $12.50 and include a glass of wine and a rose. The restaurant also will have special dinner options for the day.

Crissman said a lot of regulars come to the restaurant, and it's nice to see how the couples act a little differently that day.

“We see a lot of people sit next to each other on Valentine's Day on the same side of the bench,” she said.

The restaurant also has been the site of Valentine's Day marriage proposals, but for Crissman, it's just another day, as she already has had her share Valentine's Day celebrations. She just hopes it's busy.

For a simple, practical, yet meaningful, way to recognize the holiday, cards can say a lot, said Sue Smith, manager at Johnny's Hallmark in Murrysville. She also suggests candy and the Cupig Plush, which costs $15.95 with the purchase of three cards.

The Valentine's Day-themed stuffed pig dances to a song, and Smith, of Monroeville, said it's “so darn cute” and a great gift for grandparents.

Whatever the gift, Toellner, 52, of Flowers in the Attic, said people shouldn't save it for one day.

“I think people ought to share love all year-round. You don't have to wait until Valentine's Day to send somebody flowers,” said Toellner, of Penn Township.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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