PHOTOGRAPHY Alexandria Taveras
Regardless of where you find yourself on the love-hate continuum of Valentine’s Day, we might all be able to agree that love in its simplest and most genuine forms is one of the most beautiful things to admire when we get a chance to see it. I recently had the pleasure to do just that on my visit to the Li-Lac Chocolates factory and store in Industry City in Sunset Park. Here’s how it went.
When it comes to love they say, “when you know, you know.” The magic of Li-Lac Chocolates’ Brooklyn factory and store is just as unmistakable. Soon as I walked in, I was greeted by stacks of chocolates in nearly every shape imaginable—including a chocolate champagne bottle the size of a six-year-old. I was already living my best Willy Wonka fantasy and I hadn’t even stepped into the factory yet. But instead of relying on an army of Oompa Loompas or candy making contraptions, Li-Lac’s magic is handmade by a small factory staff led by genuine chocolate lovers and owner-operators, Anthony Cirone and Anwar Khoder.
“I first fell in love with chocolate when I was a child,” Anthony said with a big grin. “My mother always tried to keep me away from chocolates and candy, but I loved it.” At Li-Lac each chocolate is a labor of love made using the same recipes, techniques, and even some of the same equipment from when the company first opened in 1923. The company also turns out chocolate filled molds in almost every shape you can imagine, from high heels and lipstick to donkeys, dolphins, and everything in between. Each mold created and filled by hand by staff who’ve been doing it for longer than I’ve been alive.
The Brooklyn factory also supplies one of the nation’s largest selections of unique chocolate figures, as well as all of the chocolate to stock the five Li-Lac locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. And although Anthony’s goal is to make the company an NYC icon, he and his team are committed to keeping the personal touch that has also helped Li-Lac remain one of the city’s oldest chocolate purveyors. “We would never [let expansion] change the way we make our chocolates,” Anthony says as we visit the packaging area where hundreds of Valentine’s Day orders are being placed in boxes with deep red covers tied with bows by hand. This is a promise Anthony made not just to himself, but to Anwar and the rest of the company when he came on as a co-owner after two years of trying to just get a response to his inquiry to buy the company.
Anwar is also Li-Lac’s Master Chocolatier and keeper of its original recipes. “Believe it or not, I fell in love from the very first day,” Anwar tells me of his first shift at Li-Lac almost 30 years ago. Like a hummingbird he darts back and forth with grace and precision in his chef’s coat. He moves around the factory floor stirring pots, filling chocolate truffles, and pouring caramel without missing a beat. I joined him at the robing area of the factory, where gram crackers were being lined up on a conveyor belt leading to a thick waterfall of dark chocolate. “Everything we do here is freshly made every day and it makes a difference, he says with a smile. “Our customers say they can smell the chocolate before they even open the box.”
Now although I would have liked to have tried every chocolate there, I’ve seen what happens when you get too greedy at a chocolate factory, so I asked Anthony and Anwar for their favorites. The Dark Chocolate Pecan Chews are Anthony’s. They’re clusters of rich pecans, covered in the most buttery and subtly sweet caramel–then enveloped in slightly bitter dark chocolate. Anwar’s favorite, which also happen to be one of their bestsellers, is the Dark Chocolate Almond Bark. Before they’re set in a delicious cast of either dark, milk, or white chocolate, Anwar roasts each batch of fresh almonds daily to bring out their deep nutty flavor.
I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time for a taste of some of Li-Lac’s small batch caramel fresh out of the kettle. I can easily say that it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. I also made sure to try out their Butter Crunch, just for research purposes of course. And when I say “try out,” I mean I ate almost half a pound of them by myself. These have to be my favorite toffees of all time. Each addictive little square is the perfect crunch of decadent almond toffee, milk chocolate, and almond dust. It’s almost unfair how delicious these are. I would highly recommend any of these as a perfect V-Day, Me-Day, Galentine’s, or just because gift for yourself or the ones you love.
Whether you’re looking to treat yourself, or to plan a unique and special date, a trip to Li-Lac is a great idea. Besides the literal eye candy of the factory and all of the delicious chocolate, what makes Li-Lac Chocolates special is the love and care that’s put into each confection. “We want you to feel like we were thinking about you when we make it,” Anwar said of the chocolatey treats, “because we are.”