Easter a busy season for Perryopolis chocolatier
Her fingers functioning like paintbrushes, Betsy Brown deftly slathers Brazil nuts with chocolate one by one in preparation for the crush of candy-craving customers at Easter-time.
She works inside the cavernous factory of Gene & Boots Candies, the 83-year-old Perryopolis-based business that prides itself on old-fashioned techniques and personal customer service.
At Gene & Boots — with stores in Charleroi, Salem Township, Latrobe, South Union Township and West Mifflin — Easter-time is like other retailers' Black Friday.
To prepare for the store's busiest season, a dozen workers produce more than 6,000 chocolate eggs, along with personalized chocolate bunnies, a $480, 20-pound “super bunny,” and specialty nuts — all homemade.
Eric Ferguson is the third generation in the Madigan family to run the business. He calls Brown's handiwork “an art.”
Her fingers constantly monitor the vat of chocolate's temperature, making sure it's just right. She then dips each nut in the sugary concoction and marks it with a “B” for Brazil nut.
“This is probably one of the hardest jobs in the factory,” he said.
To Brown, freshness is key.
“When Wal-Mart (already) has the candy on the shelf, we're still making it,” she said.
Preparations for the busy Easter season begin months in advance.
“When Christmas is here, we're already thinking about Easter,” Ferguson said. “I kind of rely on Easter to keep (us) going through the summer.”
For Easter, “Hockey Pete,” a chocolate bunny holding a hockey stick is a fan favorite, along with chocolate bunnies personalized with customers' names.
“Chicks, ducks, lambs — anything that has to do with Easter,” office/factory manager Cindy Meyers said.
An employee trims each molded chocolate by hand, then carefully swipes away any sugary dust with a soft-bristled brush. The factory is home to thousands of molds, ranging from dinosaurs to bears to motorcycles.
Workers mix delicacies by hand, rather than with a machine. They cook ingredients in a copper kettle over an open flame. They cool the chocolate on marble tables.
“We try to be hands-on, more old-fashioned style,” Ferguson said. “They'll actually hand roll the eggs. Every egg is hand-done.”
After each gooey hunk of peanut butter is rolled into an egg shape, it rides along a conveyor belt to be showered in chocolate. Then, an employee delicately affixes floral decorations by hand before sending the eggs along a refrigerated conveyor belt.
The handful of machines in the factory are decades old and painted in bright purple and magenta hues.
The company began in the 1930s when two young friends sold popcorn, peanuts, soda and ice cream near the Coyle Theater in Charleroi. The company soon began experimenting with a new, revolutionary product at that time: the chocolate bar.
These days, the store sells more than 100,000 pounds of milk chocolate per year.
Peanut butter chocolates are big sellers now, compared to the fruit-nut-and-fondant chocolates that patrons used to crave.
The family has always had a penchant for experimenting with new culinary concoctions. They've doused in chocolate everything from spicy potato chips to pickles to bacon.
“That's the fun of the business,” Ferguson said, “you get to try different things.”
Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Belle Vernon Area education boss presents wish list to school board
- Power outage planned in Mon City, Fallowfield areas
- BVA stadium upgrades OK’d
- Monessen buys four heavy duty trucks
- Valley man faces trial in infant abuse case
- Sulkosky settling in as new California borough manager
- Donora native at forefront of scientific research
- Belle Vernon students advance to state history competition
- Mon City man killed in WWII honored in Holland
- Ringgold Rams Club offers helping hand to district programs
- Tourism grant funds give boost to Brownsville