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Valentines Day is Peak Season for Boalsburg Chocolate Company

by on February 13, 2014 6:15 AM

When you run a chocolate shop, the run up to Valentine's Day is unquestionably one of the busiest times of the year.

The owners of The Boalsburg Chocolate Company say they're business has been full of customers perusing pink and red heart shaped boxes and gift baskets, searching for the ideal present to give to friends, family, and significant others.

The shop, nestled in the heart of downtown Boalsburg at 126 East Main St. opened its doors seven years ago. Bill and Cheryl Speakman, owners of the Springfield House Bed and Breakfast were looking for a way to add more flavor to their inn. So the couple decided to turn a small guest room into a purveyor of sugary snacks. 

"We thought we might be able to do something more profitable and more fun with it," says Bill Speakman, a resident of the Boalsburg area for more than 40 years. "We renovated it, put in a few windows, opened up some space, and began a chocolate shop, since that's the business I knew."

The quality of his chocolate is what Speakman thinks seperates the shop from a run-of-the-mill convenience store. Name brand chocolate is a nice gesture during the holidays, but ultimately falls short in the taste department.

"You have Valentine's merchandise that's been on the shelves for months," says Speakman. "Tastes like it's been on the shelves for months too."

Speakman has been in the chocolate business ever since graduating from Slippery Rock University in 1970 with a degree in biochemistry. His first job was as an assistant cosmetic buyer at Joseph Horne Company, one of the three biggest department stores in Pittsburgh. After the death of the candy buyer, Speakman was promoted, and began running the store's new chocolate shop.

The shop was complete with it's own chocolate manufacturing plant, which Speakman helped operate with the previous owner.

"Luckily she came back," Speakman says of the previous owner, "because I knew absolutely nothing about chocolate when I started."

After managing Penn State's Public Broadcasting operations and serving as director for a program in youth art education, Speakman retired and began managing the inn and chocolate shop alongside his wife. The shop carries locally made chocolate, crafted by a handful of "secret" manufacturer's.

Speakman says the chocolate is made to his specifications, allowing him to request different types of chocolate coating, centers, and snacks. More than three dozen types of chocolate are available, as well as specialty items like chocolate covered pretzels, strawberries espresso beans, and potato chips.

"The idea was that I could go out and find people who made chocolates the way I wanted them made," he says.

Speakman says small local shops like his would have trouble trying to create a good quality chocolate. To deliver the best product, he believes in partnering with companies that craft large volumes because they have access to the finest materials.

"Good chocolate is about good ingredients," he says.

The shop sells the most chocolate during the peak seasons of Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, and of course, Valentine's Day. The top seller is generally anything with peanut butter, which Speakman calls a "kind of a Pennsylvania specialty." However, he's found that the normally popular varieties of dark chocolate are outsold by milk chocolate. To his knowledge, Speakman says Pennsylvania is one of few areas left in the world where this is happening.

"It might be the Dutch influence," Speakman offers as a possible explanation. "It's a dairy area, so people are used to milk and sugar in everything."

Regardless, customers crave the sweet taste of cocoa in any form. As the proud home of "Chocolatetown, USA" in Hershey, Pa., Speakman says Pennsylvania has one of the biggest sweet tooths in the country - and it might just be because of the harsh winters.

"They tend to like their chocolates sweet in colder places," he says.

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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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