Chocolatiers prepare for Valentine’s Day crowds

February 10, 2013

Barely a month after opening at Westfield Montgomery Mall, Tasty Image is getting ready for its close up: Valentine’s Day.

The company, which prints images and text on chocolate, has been taking orders for weeks. A customized printer at the Bethesda store uses four cartridges of food coloring — yellow, cyan, magenta and black — to replicate photographs onto personalized chocolate bars and lollipops.

“It’s going to be huge,” Mercedes Bendeck, who oversees the store’s catering, said of Valentine’s Day. “It’s going to be like Christmas all over again. Actually, it’s going to be even bigger than that.”

Owner Nelson Bendeck said he has bought several gallons of food coloring to last through the big day. Extra milk chocolate has been ordered, and heart-shaped boxes have been assembled.

“We’re ready to rock,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can.”


Mercedes Bendeck,who oversees catering at Tasty Images in Bethesda, showcases a tray of customized chocolates. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

Throughout the area, chocolate-shop owners have been busy stocking up on truffles and dipping strawberries into chocolate to prepare for the holiday. In an industry that relies so heavily on special occasions, being prepared for the onslaught of shoppers can mean the difference between having a profitable year or not.

“We’re getting the store completely filled to the brim,” said Skip Redman, co-owner of Chocolate Chocolate in Northwest Washington. “And the other side of it is preparing yourself to be on your feet for 10 hours. You’re lucky to get a drink of water. I usually survive on chocolate — dark almond bark — all day.”

Unlike Christmas, when the shopping frenzy kicks off weeks in advance, retailers say most Valentine’s gifts are bought on the day itself. Many local shop owners said they rack up as many sales on Valentine’s Day as they do during a typical month.

“It is the busiest single day of the year,” he said. “It is very much a procrastinator’s holiday — especially for men.”

(Redman, who owns the shop with his wife, said that they never celebrate the holiday themselves. “Are you kidding?We just literally collapse somewhere.”)

At Co Co. Sala, a chocolate lounge and boutique in Penn Quarter, people have been making Valentine’s Day dinner reservations since mid-2012, manager Miloud El Attaoui said.

“We’ve been completely booked since last month,” he said. “It’s a big event — especially when it comes to chocolate.”

This year, the boutique is also offering “Anti-Valentine’s” boxes of chocolate that include sayings such as “Sisters before Misters!” and “It’s not me, it’s you!”

Other shops are trying new tactics, too. Artfully Chocolate in Alexandria is hoping to make life easier on last-minute shoppers this year. For the first time, the company’s two stores will be selling flowers and cards alongside chocolate.

“It’ll be a one-stop shop,” owner Eric Nelson said. “We thought we’d make it easier for our customers, since men always wait. Whether they’re straight or gay, it doesn’t matter. Come Valentine’s Day, we’ll have a line of men around the block.”

Just as well, he said. Sales are likely to nose dive just after Valentine’s Day.

“We suffer terrible lulls during Lent,” because so many people give up chocolate, he said.

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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