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May 1, 2013

Local chocolatiers gear up to celebrate Mother’s Day with tasty treats

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Local chocolatiers gear up to celebrate Mother’s Day with tasty treats
Casey Petz, owner of Detroit Chocolat, started his shop with his wife to bring a little extra flavor to metro Detroit.

There are plenty of gifts to choose from this Mother’s Day to show Mom how much you love her. But if the message you want to send is “you’re the sweetest,” there’s nothing quite like a box of chocolate.

For years, Michigan has been transforming into something of a mecca for foodies nationwide. Culinary connoisseurs, beer buffs and wine aficionados flock to the Great Lakes state to get some of the best hand-crafted, artisan food and drink available. Luckily, Michigan is also home to some of the country’s finest chocolatiers, who for years have been satisfying even the pickiest of sweet teeth with high-quality treats.

Among the most well-known of Michigan’s confectioners is Sanders Fine Chocolatiers, based in Clinton Township. The company was started by Fred Sanders in 1875 — about 39 years before President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day an official national holiday.

According to Sanders director of operations Walter Pilon, moms account for the company’s fifth busiest sales day of the year, behind chocolaty favorites like Valentine’s Day and Easter. Even so, the 11 Sanders locations around metro Detroit are making sure they’re ready for throngs of customers looking for the perfect gift.

“We came out with some giftable boxes, and it’s a finished package that’s done and wrapped and ready to give,” said Pilon. “It’s a gorgeous double-layer box (with) decent price points. It’s doing really well for us.”

In addition to Sanders’ signature chocolates and fudge, the company is celebrating 100 years of its famous Bumpy Cake — a rich devil’s food cake topped with buttercream “bumps” and covered in fudge frosting. Pilon said the Sanders Bumpy Cake would make a great centerpiece for any Mother’s Day celebration.

“It’s a very iconic cake for many, many families, not only in Michigan but throughout the country,” he said. “We’ve been producing a product that supports our community and has meaning for our mothers and our grandmothers. We all have some type of memory, if we grew up in Michigan, when we were sharing times at Sanders with our family. I think that’s important.”

In the early part of the 21st century, Sanders became a part of the Morley Candy Makers family. The two companies merged their sweet traditions and passed their candy-making secrets on to the next generation of chocolatiers. Casey Petz grew up learning how to make chocolate from the masters, his grandparents Irving and Julia Morley, and now he’s branched out on his own to provide customers with a new twist on the old local favorite.

Detroit Chocolat, in Sterling Heights, opened in 2010 when Michigan’s economy was at one of its lowest points. But hard times, according to Petz, have traditionally led to chocolate success.

“It did make sense to us, at that time, to open a business and make people feel good again,” he said. “A lot of (chocolate companies) started in times of economic depression, and that history has repeated itself a number of times.”

Though Petz learned a thing or two about making chocolates growing up in the Morley factory, he said he and his wife, Lauren, opened up their shop to make chocolate their way — with the best local ingredients and the spirit of the Motor City packed into every bite.

“Detroit Chocolat is kind of a rethought on how to make an excellent product and use local sources and do things we believe in, ourselves,” he said. “We use Germack Pistachios, Better Made Potato Chips, Kelly’s Karamels out of Troy, and from that standpoint, it’s really connected to our customers.”

Petz said that when it comes to moms, chocolates have a shelf life of six to nine months, so they can last longer than perishable flowers. He said Detroit Chocolat has designed its chocolate gift selections with ladies in mind, from the colors of the packaging to the “just-right” portions.

“A 12-piece (gift box) is really perfect. The one mistake a lot of guys make is they go overboard and get something that’s, like, a pound of chocolate, and it works against you, in a sense, because it’s overwhelming,” he said. “(The 12-piece is) almost perfect in terms of the size, the way the package looks, and it makes a really nice gift.”

It’s that attention to detail, Petz said, that has made Detroit Chocolat a success in the past few years. While the store has cheeky references to its home town, like the Campus Martius gift box or the Corktown Collection truffle assortment, Detroit isn’t really the heart of Detroit Chocolat — it’s the ladies of Detroit who keep sales sweet.

“Our company is very much based on the women that have been in our lives. When I give my wife a gift, I know she cares a lot more about what I wrote in the card. If you buy a nice box of chocolate and you write a phenomenal card, at least in my household, you’re pushing all the right buttons.”

On the other side of town, Schakolad Birmingham Chocolate, on Maple Road, is getting ready for the holiday by stocking up on its chocolate selection. But what Schakolad really specializes in is custom orders because, according to owner Douglas Cale, all moms are great, but yours deserves a little something extra.

“We can put a message on chocolate, work to a theme or a color theme — we can take white chocolate and create any color in the rainbow. And we can create almost any object in chocolate that you might think of, as well,” he said.

While Schakolad can create custom treats for Mother’s Day, Sheryl Adams, of Schakolad, said that, for holidays like this, customers take advantage of the shop’s unique gift options, like baskets that include other gift items complemented by chocolate details.

“People bring us a bottle of wine or shampoo and we can incorporate chocolate onto something else you want to give Mom. We can tie things around something else, and we can tie a cute chocolate accessory onto it,” she said.

Adams added that, if your mother is looking to keep her figure this holiday, Schakolad has a unique chocolate gift with no calories, sugar or caffeine, and yet is still packed with all the healthy antioxidants that naturally come from cacao.

“We can make up a gift basket that has a bag of our brewed chocolate Choffey in it. That’s going to be huge this year, I think. We’re going to see a lot of that,” she said. “It’s a ground cocoa bean, similar to a coffee bean, that’s made into a drink. So it’s steeped with a French press and then it’s made into a really flavorful, healthy drink. Moms around here seem to love it.”

To learn more, visit www.birminghamchocolate.com, www.sanderscandy.com, and www.detroitchocolat.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.