As miracles go, it’s hard to trump the parting of the Red Sea. But there’s something miraculous about the fact that a box of chocolate truffles made in a Boston suburb and ordered by Norma and Alvin Hass near Chicago will, once again, grace the Seder table of their daughter and her family in Eagle River, Alaska.
The truffles come from Sweethearts Three in Sharon, Mass., a small, independent candy shop run by the mother-daughter team of Karen and Jill Schwab. Sweethearts Three claims to be the only retail candy store in the Boston area that sells its own handmade kosher, and kosher for Passover, chocolates.
Karen, 65, a former high-school history teacher, founded the business in 1981 with two friends (hence the name, Sweethearts Three). The friends soon left the company, but Karen had found her calling.
Jill, 37, worked in advertising before joining the company in 1999, when motherhood left her yearning for flexible hours.
The decision to make gourmet kosher chocolates was strategic; it was an untapped niche in a trendy field. The Schwabs’ store attracts some street traffic, but most of its business comes from custom orders and catering. Karen and Jill are currently trying to grow their corporate accounts. They’ll ship anywhere. Sales peak seasonally at the High Holy Days, Christmas (their repertoire includes kosher Santas) and — pulling in 25% of annual revenues — Passover.
Under the supervision of Vaad Harabonim, Karen and Jill spend two months preparing the store for Passover. On all other days, they purchase from one set of vendors; for Passover, they switch to a different set. On all other days, they use both dairy and pareve chocolates; for Passover, they make only pareve chocolates free of soy lecithin, as soy is usually forbidden at Passover by Ashkenazic authorities. They scrub down the place, unpack the Passover utensils and store the dairy things. Last but not least, they put away the regularly used chocolate tempering machine and haul out the Passover one.
“When chocolate is tempered appropriately, it has the right sheen, the right snap, the right consistency in the mouth,” Jill explained. The tempering machine squats in the center of the work area, melting chocolate bricks in its spinning kettle and fanning down the liquid chocolate to the perfect temperature. The process fills the store with an aroma like that of baking brownies.
Between the chocolate-dipped cashews, apricots and prunes; the cranberry cups and raisin clusters; the chocolate-covered macaroons and matzo; the solid chocolate daisies, and the chocolate kugel and truffles, Jill figures Sweethearts Three produces more than 1,000 pounds of kosher for Passover candies each year. The store’s signature offering is a 10-inch round, edible chocolate Seder plate topped with a one-pound, custom assortment of chocolate candies ($54 plus shipping).
Karen and Jill say that Sweethearts Three owes its longevity to the quality of the products, the emphasis on customer service and Karen’s unwavering enthusiasm even after nearly 30 years in business. Challenging the common belief that kosher chocolates are somehow inferior, Karen declared, “I defy anyone to make a better truffle.” Somewhere in Eagle River, Alaska, a granddaughter is likely to agree.
For more information, go to www.sweetheartsthree.com .
Jeri Zeder writes for the Forward from the Boston area.