Life » Culture

Sweet destinations


Hand-dipped sweets at Hedonist Artisan Chocolates, 674 South Ave. - JACOB WALSH.
  • Hand-dipped sweets at Hedonist Artisan Chocolates, 674 South Ave.

The retail spaces at local chocolate shops Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (674 South Ave.) and Laughing Gull Chocolates (1868 E. Main St.) are small yet bountiful boutiques, packed with scores of creatively flavored truffles, chocolate bark and bars, caramels, drinking chocolate, and more.

Playing with chocolate all day might sound like a dream job — and the shop owners say that it is — but it takes serious labor to make a stellar product, and serious ethical considerations go into the craft.

“I think what sets us apart is our attention to detail and our presence in the kitchen,” said Hedonist owner Jennifer Posey. “Like, ‘Should we just buy this spice or herb dry? Or should we dry it ourselves? Should I make my own peanut butter?’”

Many times the answer is yes, and Hedonist chocolates are filled with foodie bits Posey has picked locally and processed herself.

Each shop’s bounty is produced by a tiny operation in the back — at Hedonist, it’s a maze of tight rooms with large stainless steel tables and racks of chocolate-dipped fruits and truffles setting, where Posey and her team toil over often repetitive tasks of mixing, tempering, dipping, and drizzling for long hours.

Hedonist, which Posey founded in 2007, employs up to 25 people depending on the  season, and that includes a set of young workers through a partnership with RochesterWorks. In addition to the skills of the trade, Posey trains her employees to be supervisors.

“It's our gift to humanity,” she said. “But it's hard work for all of us. I really like what the city is doing, and I think developing our youth is important.”

Hedonist’s boxes of chocolate “collections” are the product of Posey’s fixations on culinary pleasures like floral flavors, bourbon or a goat cheese-strawberry-balsamic salad. Some have tapped into the diverse food traditions of Hedonist’s past apprentices. They also offer chocolate-covered salted caramels, which earned Hedonist a 2013 shout out in the New York Times. And, of course, there’s the adjacent small-batch gourmet ice cream shop, which regularly rolls out unique frozen flavors.

From left, Laughing Gull Chocolates owners Lindsay Tarnoff, Karla Carey, and Allison Zukoski. - PHOTO PROVIDED.
  • From left, Laughing Gull Chocolates owners Lindsay Tarnoff, Karla Carey, and Allison Zukoski.

Laughing Gull, which has been open at its current spot for five years, has even less space and includes a small lounge room in the back that is often used as a play area for the children of the shop's three owners. Lindsay Tarnoff, Karla Carey, and Allison Zukoski met when they each had newborns.

“I always knew I wanted Laughing Gull to be a family place, where you could come have a gourmet hot chocolate or try a chocolate and cheese plate, and sit with the kids,” Tarnoff said.

Aside from the owners, Laughing Gull has two employees. The counter and shelves are filled with decadent bars in rich flavors, like the chocolate mole bar with black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fennel, and three types of chilis. That bar is inspired by Mexican eatery Salena’s Restaurant, and is just one of the delicacies Laughing Gull offers that nods to local businesses and groups.

Some products benefit the organizations that inspired them. Laughing Gull created its “Mind Your Own Uterus” bar, which is shaped like the female reproductive system, in response to the 2022 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The shop commissioned local business Unstrung Studios to design a uterus-shaped chocolate mold, and a portion of sales from the bars go to the Support Your Sistahs fund through the Dallas-based Afiya Center.

For Tarnoff, Carey, and Zukoski, food is political. They read the transparency reports of the companies where they source their chocolate, and offer regular educational classes to people through Rochester Brainery.

Neither shop is what the industry calls a “bean-to-bar” operation — which means with some slight exceptions, both source the majority of their chocolate from companies that have already ground and processed the beans into chocolate pieces, which the shops then melt down and combine with different ingredients to make the different products they offer.

Hedonist uses between 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of chocolate each year, sourced mainly from French company Noel Chocolate. Laughing Gull is a considerably smaller operation, and went through 2,392 pounds of chocolate in 2022, which it bought primarily from Massachusetts company Taza.

“We all love chocolate and good food, and are passionate about the mission and the values,” Tarnoff said. “The fact that we’re all value-driven, I think that is definitely what gave us that instant bond.”

Rebecca Rafferty is an arts writer for CITY. She can be reached at [email protected].