Ask anyone who’s poured the better part of a sugar bowl into burned coffee: it’s hard to make something sweet out of something bitter. Consider Metuchen-based mother-daughter chocolate company 2 Chicks with Chocolate an exception to that rule. The company came about as a result of a bad accident in the 1980s that left single mother Barbara Ferrante immobilized and in need of a new source of income. Somehow Ferrante found chocolate—and discovered she was good at making it. Her daughter Elyissia joined in, selling her mom’s chocolate confections door-to-door via shopping cart (until it was unceremoniously stolen).
Fast forward a few decades and an unfulfilling corporate career and Elyissia found herself reviving her mother’s chocolate-making business in New Jersey, christening it “2 Chicks with Chocolate” to honor her mom’s original humble operation. Not that everything was sunshine and ganache for the mother-daughter duo after they incorporated; Hurricane Sandy hit their first location with over $150,000 in losses. But clearly this isn’t a pair to be put down easily.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we caught up with Elyissia (whose married name is Chinchilla) and her mother—whom she calls “Barb”—to ask how they got from a Queens apartment kitchen to a chocolate production company with two New Jersey locations and growth opportunities as far away as Dallas and Vegas. (Spoiler alert: kind of like wheeling homemade chocolates around your Queens neighborhood in a shopping cart, it takes gumption and some even tempering.)
Table Hopping: Barbara, why did you start making chocolate in the early 80s?
Barbara Ferrante: I was involved in a bad car accident that meant I couldn’t work. I had no experience making chocolate, but I took a class and started doing it from there. I kept doing different things, making my own colors, painting the molds, making everything look pretty.
TH: And Elyissia, you sold your mom’s candies in your Queens neighborhood?
Elyissia Chinchilla: Right out of a shopping cart! I was like, nine? And my mom had rules.
BF: She was not allowed to cross the street.
EC: I would go around the block and sell her candy door to door. And then, one day, legitimate neighborhood bullies robbed me! They actually stole my candy cart!
TH: So can I guess you didn’t fall in love with chocolate-making as a kid?
EC: No, I didn’t! Mom started right when Atari first came out, so I really wasn’t into that stuff. In fact, it fell by the wayside. Mom got better and went back to work, so the chocolate kind of went dormant. Fast forwarding 20 years: I was working a lot of hours in telecommunications and thought “I’ve had enough of this rodeo.” And what my mom did back in the day—even as a child I knew it was so tough of her. She was a single mom pioneering the “side hustle.” So I guess I was looking for a change and at around 32, right after I got married, I took a high-level chocolate making class with a big company called ADM Cocoa.
TH: So your goal was to revive your mom’s original chocolate making business?
EC: Yes. I kind of just jumped back in. It took me a little bit to get clear on where I wanted to go with the company. Through some networking I found our Master Chocolatier who is crazy-talented and things kind of took off from there. We incorporated in 2008 as “2 Chicks with Chocolate,” honoring my mom, what she started back in the 80s.
TH: Barbara, were you surprised when Elyissia came to you with the idea to revive the chocolate business?
BF: I was surprised and now I’m very, very proud of what she did with the company. She’s done amazing things! She’s brought it to a whole new level.
TH: Are you guys both still involved in day to day operations? What about your staff?
EC: Everybody’s really involved. Our staff’s amazing. Everything’s hand-crafted.
TH: What about you, Barbara? Do you stay involved?
BF: I’m known as the Bow Lady. Everything here is hand-tied. Nobody’s allowed to touch the bows. They can’t do it nearly as well.
EC: She does all our knots. She has her own scissors! Everybody thinks it’s witchcraft.
TH: It’s been over a decade. How much have you grown?
EC: When we first started, we had just 12 flavors. Now we’re probably at 125 flavors with a lot of custom flavors. And we’re bringing on sales reps. We had a call last week with a team in Dallas that’s really enamored with our company. Our year-review meeting was [last] Monday and we talked about rolling something out midway across the country. There’s another team in Las Vegas looking to do our parties and classes out there.
TH: I see you also cell “Tranquility Truffle” CBD chocolates and a “High Tea” hemp tea-infused line. Is that to stay on-trend?
EC: The CBD thing really came about in the last 18 months from our tea supplier, who said we should get involved in this. It’s not really my thing, but my mom unfortunately fractured her hip in November of 2018. And then coming off of her cervical cancer, it was just so much pain. I didn’t even know how to help her, so we started with this CBD.
BF: It helped tremendously. I have a lot more mobility. Really, the pain level was greatly reduced.
EC: So I thought maybe they’re onto something! So we have 20 milligrams of full-spectrum hemp in the chocolate. It’s not my thing, but we’re helping some people, and it’s really been amazing to see.
TH: Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day—how’s business?
EC: Valentine’s is the funniest time of year for us. All my staff hate Valentine’s Day. And my husband always gets me a chocolate heart from the dollar store or Walmart. But I was juts pulling sales data from last years and the 13th is like pandemonium, crazy. The 14th is also crazy. It’s a very last-minute holiday.
TH: After the Valentine’s rush, then, any plans?
EC: In 2020 we’re getting into really high-level education around cocoa, sustainability, Fair Trade. There’s a cold brew coffee chocolate we make with Rook. We steep our beans in their Costa Rican blend and finish with a caramel with cold brew. And this year we’re doing more collaboration. Carton Brewing is right down the street; I definitely want to work with those guys. We just did a chocolate stout truffle for Brainy Borough Brewing Company in Metuchen. My top client is Remy Martin XO. We do custom chocolate for Remy. We just delivered for their hotel collaboration with Marriot. We’re using their new 1738 Cognac. And we’ve done chocolates for the Borgata for five years.
TH: Those are fairly major clients for a business that began with a Queens kitchen and a shopping cart! What about you guys? Valentine’s Day or no, are your hearts still in it? After all this time, do you still enjoy chocolates?
BF: I love chocolate! I love our Jumpin’ Java Bark.
EC: I eat chocolate every single day. I’m back on my schedule, getting back to the gym. I take a 5am class. But I swear, I walked in this morning and there was our Tree Hugger Bark on the tray. So at 6:30am I’m snacking on dark chocolate.
2 Chicks with Chocolate has locations in Middletown and Metuchen. The Middletown location is home to production and got a “face lift” last summer for hosting classes and parties. There’s a “CBD 101 with Chocolate Fondue” class coming up on February 21. For those looking beyond Valentine’s Day, 2 Chicks is already working on some Tullamore Dew-filled chocolate caramels for St. Patrick’s Day. 2 Chicks with Chocolate, 19 New Street, Metuchen and 1300 Route 35, Middletown; 888-896-2449Click here to leave a comment