Friday, February 17, 2012

Pennsylvania General Store Owner Michael Holohan Talks Chocolate

Love and chocolate are in the air.  Valentine's Day may have come and gone, but at  Reading Terminal Market, they're prepping for a giant love fest on February 25, the Valentine to the Market Gala.  We've discussed the connection between love and chocolate before--how the body responds to the chemicals in chocolate in the same way that we experience the euphoria of a love affair.  We also shared a bit about Philadelphia's illustrious chocolate making history last year
Michael Holahan of the PA General Store
Today's post is dedicated to one of our favorite chocolate experts, Michael Holahan, who, along with his wife Julie, owns Pennsylvania General Store. 

Michael took time out of his busy schedule to chat chocolate with us.....

PFL:  What is the best selling chocolate item in PA General Store? 

MH:  Chocolate Covered Pretzels.  And pretzels with toppings are a big seller, but personally, I think that toppings and sprinkles are unnecessary.  The perfect chocolate covered pretzel has the right proportion of pretzel to chocolate, the right mix of salty and sweet.   There's no need to add anything else.
Dark Chocolate Wilbur Buds, Michael's favorite.

PFL:  Dark or Milk?
MH:  For me, there's nothing better than a dark chocolate Wilbur Bud.  A simple piece of good dark chocolate stands on own.   Scientifically, you need less to fill up,  you are satiated more quickly with a good piece of dark chocolate.   I've been in this business for 25 years, and there has been a big increase in the popularity of dark chocolate.  Historically, certain ethnic groups and urban dwellers favored dark chocolate over milk, but milk was more popular in general.  Now we're seeing about 50-50.  Our customers in Middle America are still almost universally milk chocolate, though. 

PFL:  Any Gender Differences in Chocolate Buying Habits?
MH:  Men have no self control.  They buy supersize Asher's Peanut Butter Heaven, or other giant pieces of chocolate which really constitute several servings, but as one piece they can pretend it's for one.  Often, slim, attractive women come into the store and buy $1.00 worth of Wilbur Buds.  This gives them about 6 or 8 buds, a very sensible, modest portion.  But women have self control.   And as the chocolate seller, I'm not complaining that slim, attractive women frequent my shop.

PFL:  Best Romantic Chocolate Story?
MH:  Several years ago we had a customer who was getting married but had proposed without a ring because he couldn't afford one.  When it came time for the rehearsal dinner, he really wanted to surprise his bride with a ring.   He had us deliver the ring to the rehearsal dinner in a box of our chocolate covered strawberries.  The rehearsal dinner was held at a rowhome in South Philly with tables stretching in a long line from the kitchen through the dining room and living room.  When we got there and presented the bride with the box of chocolate covered strawberries, she opened it, found the ring, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  We were really excited to play a part in a moment like that.

PFL:  Worst Chocolate Story?

MH:  When we started the Pennsylvania General Store, Reading Terminal Market didn't have as reliable climate control as it does now.  Early on, I stored a huge box of just-delivered chocolates on the top of a walk-in refrigerator.  It was up high, and I didn't take into account the simple rule of thermodynamics that heat rises.  The chocolate bloomed--it got that dusty, ash coating that arises when the temperature rises and falls.   It still tastes fine, and the chocolate isn't really damaged when this happens, it just looks horrid.  But we didn't know about the bloom because the boxes were decoratively packaged and sealed for Valentine's day so we never opened them.  We had customers returning the stuff for the next week.  It was awful, it looked like the chocolate had died.

We also made a big mistake our first Mothers' Day.  We made up these lovely baskets with sugar cookies, chocolates, and lavender soap--not taking into account how permeable chocolate is.  The scent of the soap seeped into the chocolate with disastrous results.  We had a bunch of calls that Monday asking why the chocolate tasted like lavender.  

I often thing of the Mark Twain quote about experience being the best education.  But sometimes the tuition is really high.  Fortunately we've managed not to repeat many mistakes....but we do make new ones from time to time!

We had a great time chatting with Michael and checking out his gorgeous array of treats.  For a great selection of chocolates and other locally produced specialties, head over to the Pennsylvania General Store.  And if you blew Valentine's Day, you'll have a great chance for redemption if you come bearing gifts from their wonderful shop.

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