10 Western Pa. chocolate makers to shop at this Valentine's Day
If chocolate is your go-to Valentine's Day gift — for your sweetie or for yourself — then don't just settle for Hershey's Kisses (although we love those too).
Local candy-makers abound throughout the region, and many have been perfecting their craft for decades. Here are 10 places you might want to check out before next Wednesday.
We know there are many more Western Pennsylvania candy purveryors, but we don't want to send everyone into sugar shock. If we left out your favorite, let us know in the comments below.
511 Adams Ave., Canonsburg
The chocolate-covered pretzel in the red box doesn't even need a name. This Sarris sweet and salty treat can be found in 1,300-plus locations, such as grocery stores, card shops and drug stores.
But to fully understand the reach of this candy store is to visit the Canonsburg facility, where everything is made daily. Guests often wait in line to get in the door and often have to search out a parking spot during any holiday. Everything is handmade and hand packed. Creamy fillings are all made on-site at the company that's been a chocolate lover's dream for more than 50 years.
Sarris goes through more than 5 million pounds of chocolate a year and during the busy season, Sarris can ship 30,000 packages a month all over the world.
Customers can design a custom heart or buy a bag of smooches — chocolate-shaped lips — or frogs on a heart for their Valentine.
2009 Freeport Road, Arnold
This chocolate shop is keeping up with the times offering emoji-inspired candies and even a smart phone choice — the I Phone Ate — while continuing to offer the same high quality candy since its inception in 1947 by Ted Vasilopus.
"I am constantly buying new molds," says John Mandak, who has owned the store with wife Karen since 1988. "For Valentine's Day, we sell a lot of fruit-covered chocolates — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes and bananas, which have peanut butter and chocolate."
Valos, which sells at 45 outside locations as well as its retail store in Arnold, will go through 1,000-pounds of fruit this week of February. The company made 17,000 pieces of molded chocolate in January and hand-makes hundreds of chocolate-covered pretzels daily.
"It's a fun job," Mandak says. "I have tried many, many different chocolate recipes, and I believe this is the best. We make everything here in small batches. Everything is fresh — nothing but the best for our customers. I wouldn't consider doing it any other way."
Wilson Candy Co.
408 Harrison Ave., Jeannette
5142 Route 30 East, Greensburg
The company motto is "quality yummies for candy loving tummies," and the Wilson family has been turning out its fine milk, dark and ivory chocolates for more than 70 years. Peanut butter meltaways are a top-seller, with raspberry and strawberry cordials running close behind. Customers also line up for the butter cremes, chocolate bars, nonpareils, malted-milk balls, coconut clusters and chocolate-covered pretzels, graham crackers and potato chips.
Joe Clark's Chocolates
621 E. First Ave., Tarentum
Known for its pecan turtles, chocolate-covered strawberries, Oreos dipped in chocolate, and an array of Valentine's Day heart-shaped boxed goodies in choices from the traditional red satin to leopard and zebra patterns and a chambray shirt and tie combination, each piece of chocolate is hand-made upstairs from the Tarentum shop.
Owner Bob Clark continues the tradition his father and uncle, Marlin and Joe Clark, started in 1937. The family stability and not wavering from the secret recipe is a reason they sell to lots of items to repeat customers, especially for holidays like Valentine's Day.
They have hearts ready filled with candies or call ahead and they will add whatever items you want.
"They call me the 'candy man,' " Bob Clark says. "We always believe in quality and value. That is how we operate. People come in, and say it tastes just like they remember as a kid."
Gene & Boots
2939 Perryopolis Road, Perryopolis
The company started in 1930 and it's now in its third generation of family ownership, with many of the original recipes still in use. For Valentine's Day, there are chocolate hearts, kisses and roses; a box of four large chocolates spelling out "L-O-V-E," and a chocolate bear with a red candy heart on its chest. Other boxed assortments feature crèmes, cordials, nuts, coconut and truffles. The factory and headquarters are in Perryopolis; five other locations are in Westmoreland, Allegheny, Fayette and Washington counties.
352 Butler St., Etna
This third generation family-owned and operated business has been manufacturing fine chocolates since 1948, with a fourth generation in training, according to its Facebook page.
Along with seasonal chocolate party platters, peppermint bark, Valentine's Day Candy and Easter baskets, it's also well-known for its popular strawberry cordials, a good-sized treat with a berry and a yummy sauce.
1228 Long Run Road (Route 48), White Oak
Opening as a business in 1947, candymaking started with Dorothy Gastel learning to appreciate finely crafted chocolates at her mother's side during the Depression and continuing on with her son, Robert Gastel.
Its popular deluxe assortment features real fruit pieces such as cherry cordials, fresh nut clusters and fudgy centers made with their own recipes.
Each hand-dipped Swiss chocolate is one of a kind, making every piece and every box a tiny bit different from every other.
Try the chocolate-covered Oreos and chocolate "pizza," a pan of perfect Swiss chocolate, topped with candies and pretzels, and doused with a drizzle of pure, white chocolate, or a Valentine's Day favorite, chocolate-covered strawberries.
Esther's Homemade Candies
1814 Brownsville Road, Carrick
For 45 years, Esther Wolfson's family recipes have been made using traditional copper kettle cooking, with all chocolate hand-dipped and drizzled in its on-site kitchen.
Another expertise is old-fashioned hand-pulled hard tack candy, a powdered sugar-covered local favorite.
Customers rave online about the chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate-covered pretzels orange creams and Easter eggs.
McFeely's Gourmet Chocolate
202 Fourth St. Irwin
100 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Greensburg
McFeely's specializes in hand-dipped fruits like strawberries and raspberries, although most popular are the tangerines and mandarin oranges. Customers also like the cashew turtles and hand-dipped Oreos. McFeely's notes that the irregularity of individual items reflects the care that goes into hand-crafting each piece of chocolate. McFeely's Gourmet Chocolate opened in Irwin in 2013 and added a downtown Greensburg store in December.
Sweetlane Chocolate Shop
113 Grant Ave., Vandergrift
Husband-and-wife owners Pete and Nicole Basile have kept the nostalgic look of the store, including the soda foundation counter where you can complement your candy with a milkshake or ice cream sundae.
The third generation shop offers fun Valentine's gifts such as chocolate-shaped stilettos and edible wine glasses. The chocolate-covered strawberry orders have been coming in all month.
Pete Basile creates the tasty treats next door — milk, dark and white chocolate. Some of the items are made from molds his aunt Elizabeth von Halle bought all over the world when she traveled for her job as a nuclear physicist. His parents, Pete and Poppy Basile, continued the tradition his grandparents started in 1947 and he strives to offer that same high quality.
"We are small, but the key is freshness," Pete Basile says. "It's got to be fresh. I am a stickler for that."
Tribune-Review staff writers JoAnne Klimovich Harrop, Mary Pickels and Shirley McMarlin contributed to this report.
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