Years ago, Barbara Ferrante’s hobby was making candles. But after being seriously injured in a car accident when her daughter, Elyissia, was 9, she couldn’t handle her office job anymore, and she switched from candles to candies, specifically chocolates. She tempered the chocolate in a Crock-Pot and poured the liquid into candle-shaped molds.
That, in brief, is how 2 Chicks With Chocolate began. To help her divorced mother make ends meet, Elyissia “started selling the chocolates on the street in the neighborhood—until she got mugged,” says Ferrante with a laugh. (They lived in Queens, New York.) As Ferrante mended, she started selling her sweets at houseware parties.
When Elyissia was a sophomore in high school, she and her mother moved to South Amboy. Elyissia became a cheerleader. After graduating, she made money bartending while earning a degree in marketing and psychology from Jersey City State College. Eventually she became director of operations for a digital telephone company in New Jersey. She hated it. “I just couldn’t get with corporate life,” says Elyissia, whose married name is Wassung. In 2000, she took up chocolate-making as a hobby, turning to her mother (who is also a cancer survivor) for support and ideas. In 2006, Wassung quit her job, took a one-week, high-intensity, entrepreneurial seminar and, with her mother, set out to launch 2 Chicks With Chocolate (2chickswithchocolate.com) in 2008-09. How’d they arrive at that name?
“After a few bottles of red wine,” Wassung answers with a laugh, “I was, like, ‘Okay, we’re two chicks and we’re selling chocolate. What are we going to call ourselves?’ And I was, like, ‘Duh! That’s it!’ We thought it was goofy, an oops, but it’s turned out to be the most powerful asset in the company.” Today her business card reads, “Chick-in-Charge.”
Mother and daughter’s aim was to position themselves between “old-fashioned mom-and-pop chocolate makers and the high-end guys,” says Wassung. “While I completely appreciate the art, the premium end is just so serious. To me, when I was a consumer, I was completely intimidated by those guys. I think you can add a touch of fun in there, and that’s what we try to do.”
It’s hard to imagine Wassung intimidated. Indeed, in addition to securing private equity funding, she recruited a high-end guy, Patrick Coston (one of USA Today’s Top Ten Artisanal Chocolatiers in 2002), to help design and continually update the 2 Chicks product line. Then they hired Stephanie Vazquez, a professional chocolatier, to run the production kitchen in South River, where the company is based. In 2009, Dessert Professional magazine named 2 Chicks a Top Ten Chocolatier.
The products range from what Wassung calls “über-premium stuff,” such as spicy merlot bon bons and cabernet caramels in a wine bottle-shaped box, to design-your-own chocolate bars, to a spicy hot-cocoa mix to “kitschy and fun stuff,” such as chocolate-covered Rice Krispies treats, Oreos and pretzels—plus a growing corporate gift business. “Peanut butter is hot this year,” Wassung says, “so we’re going to do a lot of stuff with peanut butter.”
A retail store, part of the initial plan, had to be postponed when the economy tanked in 2008. But it’s back on the drawing board and may come to fruition (in Manhattan or down the Shore) by the end of the year. The theme and ambience of the store? “Willy Wonka meets Build-A-Bear meets Sex and the City,” says Wassung.