Starting out in a career as a financial analyst, Melissa Crandley never had plans to open her own business one day. After quitting her job in finance, Crandley attended culinary school, where she focused on savory cooking. Later, she discovered her love for chocolate while working in a pastry kitchen. Last fall, Crandley opened her storefront chocolate shop, Mecha Chocolate in Haddonfield, where she’s busy crafting specialty chocolates and sweets for the upcoming holiday season.
“We dip everything by hand. We don’t have any machinery,” said Crandley. “It’s a labor of love.”
With trick-or-treating on the hiatus for many, it’s the perfect time to indulge at home with some creative chocolates. We caught up with Melissa Crandley to discuss the background story behind Mecha Chocolate and what new sweets she’s crafted for the fall season.
Table Hopping: Did you always have a love for the sweet side of cooking?
Melissa Crandley: I went to culinary school and I actually didn’t go for pastry, I went for regular culinary. I worked in Philly at Bindi which is now Jamonera, and then I went over to Barbuzzo. Then I actually did all the pastries and we did chocolate in the kitchen, too. That’s kind of where I got the training for it and I loved doing it.
TH: When did you open Mecha?
MC: It was actually about eight years ago in 2012, but I didn’t have a storefront. I just had a commercial kitchen in the SoHa Arts Building [in Haddon Township]. Then after eight years, I started off in basically 100 square feet, then I doubled my space, then I tripled my space. Then I kind of realized that it was time to move to the next level and open up the storefront. It was a year ago last Saturday that we opened up in Haddonfield.
TH: How different has it been with a storefront?
MC: We really increased our business and were able to reach more customers, just because we had hours. The good part is that nothing’s really changed because I can still produce in the kitchen in the back. Then we had to close down [for Covid-19 lockdowns] and when that happened I actually was lucky. I already had a business model in place for dealing with the type of scenario of not having a storefront open. I basically reverted back to how I was before. We basically did shipping, deliveries, and we started doing curbside. We did lose a lot, but we were able to keep going and people were really supportive, too.
TH: Is there any significance behind the name “Mecha”?
MC: My name is Melissa and my husband’s name is Charles, so we basically put the two names together. It’s pronounced “Mee-cha.”
TH: Is there a special recipe that goes into making these chocolates?
MC: My background is a lot of savory stuff. So we basically come up with combinations on a whim. My employee Taylor came up with something with sage. I know from savory cooking that sage and brown butter go together, so we did a sage and brown butter caramel. I use a lot of my savory background to come up with new flavors.
TH: What are some seasonal chocolate flavors you’ve created?
MC: We do a Fall Favorites Box, which are actually the first flavors I came up with before I even opened the business. The box has pumpkin pie, apple cider, maple pecan pie, hazelnut praline and we do our double dark ganache. Playing into the Oktoberfest stuff, we did a peanut butter pretzel caramel, too.
TH: Are you doing anything special for Halloween?
MC: Caramel apples are going to be our special this year. We do a regular one with caramel and peanuts-that’s our traditional one. We’re doing one coated in chocolate with vanilla sugar. And then we’re also doing one called Chamoy Tajin. Chamoy is basically a chili pepper sauce that in Mexico they dip fruit in, so it kind of made sense to do that for the apples. The Tajin is a seasoning that has lime and peppers. It’s a little bit of a warming spice and it has a little bit of heat.
TH: Is there anything else you’re working on for the holidays later this year?
MC: We’re starting to put together spice mixes that have chocolate. So I’m doing a spice mix for chocolate chili. So basically you’ll get the spice mix together and then you can find the recipe online for the chili. We’re also doing some sugars that are infused. Vanilla sugar and apple cinnamon sugar. You can use them for coffee or for tea or oatmeal.
TH: Where else can people find your chocolates?
MC: We do farmers’ markets, which are a good way to get our name out there. It’s also a good way to experiment because we introduce new products there. When we first started out, that was where we would test new products and see if people liked them. They kind of guided my flavor selections.
We do the Burlington Farmers Market, which is at the agricultural center in Moorestown. We also do Yardley in Pennsylvania. We normally did Collingwood but not this year.
TH: What’s one thing you’d want everyone to know about Mecha Chocolate?
MC: We make everything in small batches. We really care about the flavors of our chocolate and making sure that you know when we say pumpkin pie, you taste pumpkin pie. We actually do a lot of trial and error to make sure we get the flavors correct, to make sure there’s a good balance.
Mecha Chocolate is located at 7 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield. Order online or visit the storefront, open Mondays 11 am–5 pm and TuesdaySaturday 11 am–6 pm. Questions? Call 856-281-9565 or contact the shop at [email protected].Click here to leave a comment