Philly and the Chocolate Factory: The Berley Brothers and Shane’s Confectionery

In an era when big-box megastores are calling the candy shots, Philly’s renegade chocolatiers are intent on doing it their way. Sweet.

YOU STILL DON’T NEED MUCH room to make candy. Doyle’s plant kitchen isn’t much bigger than the one in my house. You don’t need many people, either; none of the chocolatiers I visited have more than a handful of employees. What you need is experience and know-how. That’s where Tony Jr. comes in.

His dad, Tony Sr., managed the Goldenberg’s plant for decades, and worked for a ton of other chocolate makers—Elmer, Minler Brothers, Plantation. Then, back in the ’80s, Tony Sr. and his son bought their own chocolate company: Lore’s. Today, Tonys Jr. and Sr. still make a full line of traditional chocolates—caramels, buttercreams, marshmallows, jellies, nougat—­to sell to customers who come in with their kids and grandkids to the Lore’s shop, tucked on 7th Street just south of Market. I can’t recommend the toffee highly enough.

Candy making is hard work, Tony Jr. tells me as we bask in the warmth of a vat of 275 pounds of melted chocolate: “I don’t think anyone goes into it with big thoughts. It’s not glamorous. Nobody calls you ‘Chef.’” You’re at the mercy of the weather and swings in commodities. “I hedged wrong on cocoa futures last June,” he says, and shrugs.

Carl Goldenberg, who sold his Peanut Chew business to Just Born, the Peeps peeps, in 2003, still lives in Rittenhouse Square and stops by to chew the fat with Tony Jr., who wasn’t surprised by the sale. “It’s very difficult to be a small player in this business,” Tony Jr. says. “The big guys”—mega-merchants like Walmart and Target—­“are writing the rules. They squeeze the margin out of you. There’s not much wiggle room. Just Born is 10 times larger than Goldenberg’s. It’s easier for them to play on that field.”

You’d think a guy working that hard, squeezed so tightly by economic forces, would be fanatical about guarding the secrets of his trade. But when Doyle needed a place to make his chocolates, Tony Jr. offered him part of Lore’s Feltonville plant (formerly the Goldenberg’s plant). When the Berley brothers needed an antique candy stove, they went to Tony Jr., too. “I collect stuff,” he says, and shrugs again.

Tony Jr., 49, regards the new Philly chocolatiers with fond bemusement. “Those brothers—they’re kind of kooky,” he says of the Berleys. And Doyle? “I’ve known John since before he made candy.” He shakes his head at Doyle’s chocolate ladybugs and bees, which cost $29 for a nine-piece box: “If you can charge $60 a pound for your chocolates … now that’s wiggle room!” Still, he’s generous with his knowledge and his cache of equipment. “Lore’s is good people,” Curtin says. Eric Berley adds: “Tony will buy anything he sees if he thinks it might help a friend.”

Philly’s chocolatiers are like a family, for the most part. They don’t rejoice when someone among them fails. There’s universal sympathy for Antoine Amrani, whose high-end line got cold-cocked by the recession, and for Tom and Sarah Block, whose Naked Chocolate melted down. Tony Jr. tells sadly of watching gentrification—and salvation—­inch ever closer to venerable Young’s Candies in Brewerytown. Just as the hipsters reached Girard Avenue, third-generation proprietor Harry Young Jr. died. The shop closed; none of his kids wanted the hard life of a chocolatier.

Still, some people do.

Among the confections for sale at the reborn Shane’s are LoveBars, made by the newest member of Philly’s chocolate clan: Tegan Hagy, 32, who was operating out of a rented GradHo kitchen until June, when she snared a petite commercial kitchen in Frankford. Hagy makes “bean-to-bar” chocolate: She hand-roasts cacao beans sourced from fair-trade farms in Latin America, hulls them, grinds them in a melanger from India normally used to prepare lentils for dahl—“I had the motor modified”—adds organic sugar, tempers the chocolate to make it more stable and sheeny, molds it, then hand-wraps the resultant bars.

She produces about a hundred a week and sells them at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market, along with chunks of untempered chocolate—“It has a softer texture; kids like it”—hot chocolate, and her newest product, brewing cacao: roasted and ground beans that you percolate with water to produce … the drink the Aztecs taught their European conquerors to make.

There’s been, Hagy says, “a level of disbelief” among local chocolatiers at her methods. When she was looking for equipment, she visited Tony Jr. at Lore’s, who raised his eyebrows at her enterprise. Hagy didn’t take it personally: “They’re artisans. This is a craft, something deep in their history. Before he handed anything over, he wanted to make sure it would be properly respected and used.” She must have passed the test; Tony Jr. offered to sell her a temperer. Somebody may still be making chocolate with it at the turn of the next century.

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