New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Pantelis, Zoë, and Petros Tsoukatos finished their studies and begun careers in nearby Washington, DC, never dreaming that they would have a chocolate-dipped future. But when you’ve grown up breathing the luxurious scent of melting chocolate, other professions don’t seem to offer as much to savor as the art of making candy. You can say that handcrafted chocolate is a Tsoukatos family joy.
When the three Tsoukatos siblings and their father, George, opened Zoë’s Chocolate Co., in 2007, Zoë Tsoukatos told the GN, “We realized that part of us had always missed the aroma of chocolate… the creation of bonbons, the rush from holiday excitement, and most of all, making everyone in our town happy.”
Zoë’s Chocolate Co. is busiest during the holidays, especially Christmas,. This year conveys the family’s warmth of spirit in the middle of the pandemic crisis. As well as all the multicolored boxes of shiny wrapped treats on the website, one imagines setting upa forest with the featured rich chocolate“Joyful Chocolate Trees,”whose artfully shaped branches are dusted with snow-white sugar, and the crunchy, rough hewn-look Caramelized Slivered Almond Trees, then and populating it with the featured happy white chocolate Snowmen. Is it wrong to want them all?
“We grew up in the chocolate making business. We loved helping our parents and did so every chance we had. We loved helping our mom, Eleni, and our father, George, the master chocolatier for our uncle’s business. It was never a chore. It was always fun,” said Zoë.“So, when our father found himself out of work after 30 years as a master chocolatier, we had a mission to help Dad and build a family business of our own; a place for Dad’s expertise, for him and his kids to come together to bring modern concepts to our time-honored tradition. Our goal,inspired by our dad,was to continue a three-generation tradition,” Zoë said, “And he was thrilled with the idea of working with his children.”
The Tsoukatos siblings’ maternal grandparents and maternal great aunt and uncle, the first generation of what is now a three-generation business emigrated to America from a small town outside of Sparta.“They knew how to make sweets but learned how to make chocolates,” said Zoë, ”They would roll bonbons in the evenings and sell them the next day with a pushcart.” Zoë doesn’t know who taught the couple to roll bonbons, but her mother, Eleni, speculates that they may have learned when they went to Baltimore.
Her father, George, picked up the trade from Eleni’s mother, his mother-in-law, and then he streamlined things., said Zoë’. “He learned quickly since he has a talent for cooking. He’s an excellent chef. He knows flavors and how to blend them together.” George’s own father, in Leonidio, who passed at around the same time George emigrated to the US, had given George a recipe book. “My father started to experiment with the recipes and his creativity blossomed.He actually cooks for all of us, every day still. He or my mom makes us all lunch and we are fortunate enough to still eat every lunch together.”
The Tsoukatos siblings, too, experienced a surge of creativity when they decided to move back
to Pennsylvania and open a shop of their own. “We wanted to do something completely different than what our grandparents and father did. We wanted to step outside of the box and create unique, one-of-a-kind chocolates for today’s palate.” Petros, the younger of her two brothers, has apprenticed under his father and has taken various chocolate courses, as well.
One of their innovations is the “Mediterranean Heritage” group of flavors. “These flavors have a nostalgic feel to them,” Zoësaid. “Growing up, and growing up Greek, we, of course, love food and love that food brings people together. We wanted to bring flavors that reminded us of Greece — eating our grandma’s cookies and sweets in the summers was such a delight. We loved the different spices and herbs in Greece, so we incorporated them into our chocolates. We use sesame, honey, cinnamon, mastiha, etc.”
In addition to paying homage to their Greek heritage, they ’ve honored their American upbringing by creating Classic American flavors like Apple Pie and Spiced Pear, and are always developing new ideas.
“When we created Zoë’’s Chocolate, we wanted to create a company that was an extension of our family. We want our customers to enjoy coming to visit our stores and learn about chocolate. I do believe if you ask any Greek, they will tell you the same–food brings people together, and that’s what we wanted.We wanted to create not only the most delicious chocolates, but a unique tasting experience.”