I LOVE my job! Sometimes I walk into the shop, pause for a moment, breathe deep and say a prayer of gratefulness that God has blessed me with so much joy in my work. I get to imagine beautiful things every day, and then create them with my own hands, and then share them with people all over the world! It doesn’t get any better than this! Sometimes my ideas are BIG…so big that they take nearly two years to create and sometimes they’re tiny…like my newest cordial cherry design: my Easter Flower Patch Bunny. I know bunnies actually have nothing to do with Easter, but they’re certainly a sign of Spring and have brought my kids and me much joy over the years watching them play chase in our back yard. Once, I watched one of these bunnies stretch up as high as she could to nibble the petals right off of an unsuspecting flower…it was adorable! So this newest cordial cherry collection the result of that day’s inspiration.
Unlike most chocolatiers, our pieces are often a multi-day process of punching out specific shapes, sculpting various parts, dipping, and finally assembling all the pieces and applying the finishing touches. On day one of production for our newest design I punch out “V” shaped sugar pieces and let them harden overnight. These will become little bunny ears. I also pipe by hand, tiny little flowers. Once set, they can be painted with shimmer spray and then dotted with their center detail.
Day two, requires sculpting the head out of a rolled fondant and shaping it around the “V” from the day before. It’s important to set these on wax paper to create a flat bottom so they don’t roll around and also that they lift off easily when ready to dip. These will set overnight as well to allow them dry enough so they will dip easily.
hocolate_covered_cherries_Easter_bunny_bunnies_large.jpg?v=1521473419" alt="" />
Day three…it’s time to dip our bunny heads into a white chocolate. This process is delicate and must be conducted within about 10 seconds. I use two of my favorite chocolate tools (reshaped paperclips)…one is used to lift the fondant head and the other is used to push it onto the wax paper. Once the white chocolate sets up these sweet little bunny heads are ready for their hand-painted faces.
We use white chocolate cordial cherries to be the body of our Easter Bunnies. The cherry stem is removed and a dollop of chocolate glues the bunt head to its body. The stem of the flower is painted and the flower attached. The final step is to pipe the little bunny feet and arms. And that's it...three days later...our sweet little Easter Bunny cordial cherries are complete.
Chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, baskets of fake grass, and jellybeans galore...these are all signs that Easter is fast approaching. The beautiful pastel dresses and tiny sweater vests in the department store tug at my heartstrings as I remember all the fuss over sewing Easter dresses for my daughter and dressing my boys in short pants and newsboy hats. I LOVE making this day memorable...the special clothes, the Easter service, the symbolic table settings, fancy desserts...EVERYTHING! With all the hubbub though, it's no wonder that the true message of Easter can get lost, especially for children.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to share a couple pictures of my boys wearing their short pants and newsboy hats...
Anyway...a few years ago, Max, my oldest son who was eight at the time, asked me a question that I'm embarrassed to say I never really thought about prior to his inquiry. He said, "Mom, what do bunnies and eggs have to do with Easter?" We were at the shop when he asked...I was making our sweet little bunny cordial cherries...and his question caused me to pause for a moment. After, thinking for a bit, and having done no Googling or other investigation, I responded with, "Nothing, I suppose." In typical Max fashion, there was most certainly a follow-up question...which I knew was coming and for which I had no good answer. "Well, why do we have bunnies and eggs at Easter then?" he asked. I was stumped...I should know this...but I didn't. And, what bothered me most is that I was preparing and selling chocolate cordial cherry bunnies and eggs and therefore perpetuating this holiday tradition for which I had no idea why.
I have since investigated the answers to Max's questions and it turns out that bunnies and eggs in fact have nothing to do with Easter. And, while chocolate bunnies and eggs are a fun a tasty tradition, they do little to help children reflect on the Easter story. I decided that year to design a collection of cordial cherries that would tell the Easter story...I call it our "He is Risen" collection.
The He is Risen collection includes four cordial cherry pieces...
~ The Crown of Thorns ~ Matthew 27:29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they placed it on His head.
~ The Cross ~ Mathew 27:37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
~ The Tomb with Stone Rolled Away ~ Mathew 27:2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Matthew 27:5 and 6 ~ The Angel ~ The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
STORY BY JENNIFER LITTON | PHOTOS BY DEBRA S. KAPLAN
How does anyone ever really know if they have the moxie to start their own business? After Melissa Stephen’s cordial cherries were listed on Oprah’s 2013 List of Favorite things, her business naturally skyrocketed.
At the height of her Oprah fame during the busy holiday season, Stephens had to delay opening her store so that she could make enough product to sell. She opened the door at 3 p.m. to find an entire courtyard filled with customers anxiously waiting to purchase her delectable chocolates. “Then there’s this guy with this baby running. It was like something you’d see in a movie,” she says. The Cordial Cherry had built a reputation for selling out.
Her own business started quite innocently and almost by mistake. It was an afterthought, really. Stephens was student-teaching at Northwest High School while working on her doctorate. As a way to become more involved, she signed up for a booth at a spring bi-annual fundraising craft show.
What could she sell? Her Grandma Sheldon had taught Stephens how to make cordial cherries when she was little. Using grandma’s recipe, Stephens whipped up a batch. She had the idea to decorate one of the cherries to look like a tuxedo. “I’m up there late at night making this little cordial cherry to look like a tuxedo. I got done and I was like ‘Gosh, that’s kind of cute.’ I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but it’s cute,” Stephens says.
“Everybody was going nuts over this tuxedo cherry.” Although she couldn’t sell it, it was the spark that created her business. She came up with more designs. By the time the Fall craft show rolled around, she also decorated cherries like Christmas trees and reindeers. She sold out in a few hours.
She credits Grandma
Sheldon with planting the idea after her grandma visited a show and witnessed the cherries’ success first-hand. “She said, ‘Missy, you’re going to be big some day.’ She saw how excited everybody got.”
Stephens, whose customer base is 95 percent women, noticed that many were approaching her with questions about how to start their own businesses. “How did I get started? How did I pay for things? How did I come up with the idea? It was incredible how many women were interested but for whatever reason didn’t take the next step,” Stephens says.
Eventually Stephens decided there had to be a way she could help out. So she opened Stories Coffeehouse near 180th and Pacific. It is a beautiful, yet cozy spot offering the gamut of coffee beverages—from lattes to espressos with tasty treats to nosh on. “It was a chance for them to see if it’s something they want to do long-term and in a relatively safe environment.”
Stephens gave business-owners a chance to rent commercial kitchen equipment and display space as long as they signed a year-long agreement. The rent depends on how much time and space the occupant is using, as opposed to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The idea is that the costs are spread out among multiple business owners.”
Stephens says that new business owners put a lot on the line. “You’re just hoping that your idea takes off and if it doesn’t, you’re stuck with an awful lot of debt and probably an awful lot of regret.”
She has seen many businesses start and fail. “My feeling has been that in a lot of those cases, they maybe had a great product, but they might have been lacking in their overall store appearance. They might have been lacking in their branding, their packaging, their presentation.”
She was willing to figure out those crucial parts of a business on her own. “I taught myself how to do social media. I taught myself how to build a website. I taught myself branding,” Stephens says.
Stephens considers herself an artist first, who taught herself chocolate. “I have an eye for design and art. I love making things. I’m an avid seamstress. I love to build things. I lay tile.”
With Stories Coffeehouse, Stephens created an inviting environment. “The décor, the music, the whole feel, the furniture. It is everything that Stories is. That was where my talent came in.”
She found prospective business owners and mentored them on a weekly basis. “I would meet with them individually to help them with their websites.”
One such businesswoman was Amber Christ of the readyto- bake meal service, Homemade by Amber. “We are learning a lot. There are a lot of things you don’t know about a small business until you’re behind the driver’s seat, so we’re learning as we go,” Christ says.
Christ, a former accountant, realized that life is too short after losing both her mother and aunt to cancer. She didn’t love her job and it became the impetus for starting her own business. She benefitted from professional guidance by Stephens.
Things went so well that Christ bought Stories from Stephens just over a year ago. Christ has, in turn, helped the businesses figure out how to market their products. “It’s how to catch the consumer’s eye and really branding yourself so that people see your logo. It’s really fun because we’ve all learned together,” Christ says.
“At any given time, we have six to seven small businesses together. They have either learned the hard way or the successful way. They can really help to mentor and coach one another.”