Food

From Parks and Rec to Chocolate: Hedonist Artisan Chocolate's Unexpected Journey

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Now that she had a kitchen equipped to create confections, the owners of Equal Grounds Coffee where Posey worked let her have a counter in their shop to give the city its first taste of Hedonist Artisan Chocolates. She would have tastings regularly and made her first sales there, eventually leading to some wedding favors and a spot at the South Wedge Farmers Market.

The ice cream maker Posey shared the rented kitchen with changed ownership and ended up leaving, giving her the opportunity to have the whole kitchen to herself. This led to her opening what she calls “the tiniest chocolate shop ever” right inside the kitchen. She recalls, “I got creative with using space. It was quaint, people would come down the alley and be like, ‘Is there really a chocolate shop down here?’”

As the number of curious customers continued to increase, Posey earned some local press, particularly once she started featuring designs by local artists on the chocolates themselves. “It was always the intent to celebrate ‘artisan’ in a different way than just handmade in small batches.” This expanded version of artisan also applied to how Posey would educate her first batch of interns, teaching them how to control the room when making chocolate. She would use an old-school approach, which involved knowing how to respond to the climate so that the chocolate would adapt in the process. “If you went to a big chocolate factory, there’d be all these controls for that. Our controls are our bodies at Hedonist. Every chocolate that we make is different and unique—they’re like snowflakes.”

In 2013, though, those “snowflakes” ended up becoming a full-blown blizzard. The shop was alive and well, now with an actual storefront and an online store. That winter, The New York Times called the shop to order a box of dark salted caramels for a feature that would rank the best salted caramels in the country. At the time, Posey was mostly unphased by the potential of such press. “I’m from California, so, The New York Times? I didn’t think anything of it. Usually when we’d get press, we’d get a slight uptick in business, but nothing to get too excited about,” she says.

But on February 5th, 2013, Posey would learn just how much of an uptick this particular bit of press could create. “I got to work that morning and turned my computer on, and it was as if I had been spammed. My email just said, ORDER, ORDER, ORDER,” she recalls. At the time, the kitchen could only make one batch of caramel at a time, which equaled about 225 pieces. Posey laughingly recalls breaking the news to her head chocolatier at the time, Nathaniel Mich, saying, “Um, we have some orders… I need you to make 40,000 caramels. Now.” The two then summoned all of the interns and everyone on staff, who worked endlessly for the next few weeks to fulfill the onslaught of orders. “My partner’s job was to make sure everybody was fed and that they didn’t leave,” Posey recalls. “We worked and worked and worked, but we came up with a lot of solutions, quickly, and everybody did a really great job.” When the order storm finally settled, the Hedonist crew had more than doubled the initial 40,000 estimate, ending up with nearly 100,000 caramels being crafted and shipped. While the other nine chocolate businesses whose carmales were listed by the Times temporarily shut down their shops to focus on the slew of orders, Hedonist refused to shut down no matter how insane things became. The staff would later dub February 2013 as “Caramelgeddon.”

Today, Hedonist is a widespread community itself, with its chocolate being sold at various wineries, spas, and cafes throughout Upstate New York. In the summer of 2012, Posey opened the supplementary Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream shop in the adjacent storefront. Last July, she and her partner also opened Little Button Craft & Press, a multi-purpose craft shop and creation space. As her businesses continue to bloom, Posey aims to perpetuate the adages she developed in her parks and recreation days, stating, “One thing that I’ve learned in all the jobs that I’ve had is to keep quality first. If you lead with quality, success will follow. I think in the next 10 years, my focus will be just keeping our quality high and in turn adding to the experience of coming to this community.”

Trevor Courneen is a freelance contributor to Paste. You can listen to his interviews via his podcast, Audible Handshake. You can also tweet random musings to him @trevorcourneen.

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