North Fork Chocolate Company hoping for Christmas miracle

11/30/2019 6:00 AM |

Steve Amaral of North Fork Chocolate Company. (Credit: Tara Smith/file)

At North Fork Chocolate Company in Aquebogue, holiday madness is already setting in as chef Steve Amaral begins crafting thousands of gourmet chocolate reindeer, snowmen and Santa Clauses.

This year, Mr. Amaral and his business partner Ann Corley are faced with an added level of holiday stress: they could lose their Main Road storefront when their lease ends on Dec. 31. The owners of the building, which the chocolatiers have rented since 2015, have listed the property for $1.2 million. According to Ms. Corley, they are eager to sell and asking for a quick cash deal.

“[The owner] is a great guy and landlord, and I can see his side of the picture,” she said. “But I’m looking for a miracle at Christmas,” Ms. Corley said in an interview Friday.

They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to raise $1.25 million, which would help them purchase the building and also begin offering classes and tours to give visitors a glimpse at the chocolate making process.

Ms. Corley and Mr. Amaral have envisioned that for years in a vacant side of the building adjacent to the retail shop.

“We were asked to take that space after the yoga studio moved out,” Ms. Corley said, pointing out that they are limited in making alterations to the rented space. It’s currently used for private parties and seating for customers who want to enjoy their products on site.

The Aquebogue location has also allowed the business to merge the manufacturing, wholesale and retail aspects of their business.

“The front lawn is a park-like setting, people hang out and relax there,” Ms. Corley said. “We’ve spent five years building [our business] and we don’t want to lose it.”

The timing couldn’t be worse, she said, since their busiest time of the year falls from Christmas to Valentine’s Day.

“That would be such a hardship,” she said, to lose production time if they’re forced to move.

Unlike other crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter campaigns require organizers to set a fundraising goal and deadline. The project only gets funded if their goal is reached.

Since starting out in 2012 at the Stony Brook Incubator in Calverton, the chocolatiers’ focus has been on incorporating local ingredients into their products. Locally produced fruits, dairy products, wine, sea salt, beer and roasted coffee have all been incorporated into their small-batch bars, bon bons and truffles.

Prior to moving to Aquebogue, the company temporarily leased space at the food court at Tanger Outlets.

“Steve and I started out with 500 bucks each,” Ms. Corley said. “We hand churned the chocolate until we were able to buy our first machine.”

Now, they have three machines and supply their products to stores like Wild by Nature and the Taste NY visitor center as well as local vineyards and boutiques.

The business partners are also cognizant of the importance of community, making frequent donations of products and events to local nonprofits, schools and libraries. Their store also acts as a “microstore” for independent crafters and artisans.

“We open our doors to them because we know how hard it was. These are all startups who are trying to get their products to market,” Ms. Corley said. “We’re there for the community—maybe the community will be there for us.”

While they’re working on a plan B and plan C for contingency, Ms. Corley said she’s holding out hope.

Meanwhile, Mr. Amaral is still thinking of new ideas and concepts to portray in his chocolates, from new methods of grinding cocoa beans to soaking the beans in local wine and offering organic and vegan products.

“He’s like the chocolate scientist,” Ms. Corley said. “That’s why we decided to go with a Kickstarter. We really have a project that we want to sprout, grow and give back.”

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