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Sweet Talkin' Man: Acton's Happy Chocolatier

On bacon, Buddhism, chili flakes and, of course, Valentine's Day.

Paul McMahon of The Happy Chocolatier offers some advice for the guys out there who haven't planned their Valentine's Day gift.
Paul McMahon of The Happy Chocolatier offers some advice for the guys out there who haven't planned their Valentine's Day gift.
'Tis the season to talk chocolate.

So Patch caught up with Paul McMahon, a local resident who founded The Happy Chocolatier in 2011.

It was delicious conversation. Chocolate covered, and with extra ingredients like:
  • Bacon
  • Buddhism
  • Valentine's Day
  • Giving back to the community
Read on below for the Q-and-A, and don't forget to check out the photos and video above, in which McMahon offers a little Valentine's Day advice for the guys out there. 

AP: What do you do here, and what is the mission of the Happy Chocolatier?

PM: Sort of where the name The Happy Chocolatier came from is, for many years I gave people chocolate before I was in the business and it always brought to smile to someone’s face. So as I decided to open a business, I thought ‘That’s a great name.’ And our signature piece, the Cubze, each one of the truffle cubes has a statement about happiness. So it starts to hang together, if you will. Part of our mission statement is to bring some happiness to our community, and part of that is through the chocolate that we make and sell, and taking that extra time and effort to make something that is extra special and worth your trip and if you give as a gift would be something you’re pleased to give and someone would be pleased to get. And we’ve seen the fruition of that in that as we’re at the end of our second year folks come in who have received [the chocolates] as a gift and said ‘I now have to buy something for somebody, and I enjoyed this so much I now have to give it.’ To us, that’s the ultimate compliment. And the other piece of that mission statement is giving back to the community. … Our view is that, we’re a small business, we’re still a start-up, but if we’re giving back today, as we grow and do much better, it’s part of the DNA.

AP: Tell me a little bit about the Cubze, your signature product.

PM: They’re our biggest item, because they’re our signature item. And they’ve developed a following, which is quite the compliment. But they were something that was a hobby. While I spent my career on the corporate side for a long time, they were just a hobby. I like to eat; I like chocolate, it was kind of fun to make something. When I left my corporate job with the restructuring, I said to my wife ‘I think I might see if I can turn these into a business.'

AP: So the Cubze led to the business, the business didn’t lead to the Cubze?

PM: Correct. The Cubze were the inspiration for the business. What we’re doing today is a far cry from when I was standing in front of the kitchen stove with a pot – we had to scale the recipe and that kind of thing. It’s been very satisfying to see somebody walk in and say, ‘I have to tell you how much I like…’ and point to one. When I had a corporate job, I was in marketing and so one of the things I would do is spend a lot of money on marketing research and so on. And I have to tell you, there is no better market research than when someone comes in, points to something, tells you how good it is and they pull out greenbacks and they buy it. 

AP: We’re almost at Valentine’s Day. Can you talk about the way a chocolatier approaches this holiday?

PM: Valentine’s Day is a very short holiday. So where Christmas is a season, Easter is a season, Valentine’s Day is a very short holiday – it’s a couple or three days. Valentine’s Day, for a chocolatier, is the one holiday where the majority of our customers are male, the majority of them are shopping at the last minute – and the majority of the items going out the door are meant to be gifts. … It’s very much a gift holiday and, by default, it’s boxed chocolates of some variety – whether they’re a huge box, or a basket or something like that or a little special gift. So the preparation there is multi-step, you have to have the packaging, and the pieces of the packaging and the candy that you’re putting in that you’re making, and then the process for getting it out the door. … And presentation is of utmost importance. If you’re just buying a little snack to eat in the car, the clear cellophane bag is fine, that’s what it’s for. Well, if you’re giving it to your husband or wife the presentation is very important – the bow and that type of thing. 

AP: You have a variety of Valentine’s Day pieces here. Do you think of your offerings in terms of having something for the middle-school kid to give his to first girlfriend and also something for a husband to give to his wife of 50 years?

PM: We try and have a breadth of offerings, from the little love pop you’re going to give to your son or daughter tor bring to school for their 12 friends. Great. Then we might have something that’s a small little gift, like a desk drop for in the office after a bag week. And then we have a variety of gift boxes that are meant to be that special gift for someone, and we do them in a variety of price points. … Since the recession, I think people still are very much price conscious, and if you have something that fits their need – ‘OK, I was going to spend $50 and get flowers and chocolate or wine and chocolate, there’s an offering. OK, I’ve got my package.’ 

AP: There are a lot of products for Valentine’s Day, but you don’t have a lot of hearts. Was that a conscious decision?

PM: Yes. We have some really pretty chocolate molded items, or hand-foiled and whatnot, but our signature boxes for Valentine’s Day are not heart-shaped. Mostly because people now equate the heart-shaped box with the mass merchant or drug store chain. And there’s a whole bunch of them on the shelves and they’re really inexpensive and the chocolate inside is just ‘meh.’

AP: What’s your favorite of The Happy Chocolatier’s treats?

PM: I say the Cubze, because I created them, and they’re probably my favorite item because that is the one thing that people come back in for because they’ve had it someplace else. There’s nothing better for that for us.

AP: How do you come up with those ‘happiness statements’ inside of the Cubze?

PM: Initially, I researched the happiness statements from people like Abe Lincoln. One appropriate for Valentine’s Day: ‘Happiness never decreases by being shared’ is from Hindu Prince Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. Several others were submitted by local junior high and high school kids over the last few years. We always welcome people to submit an original statement. And, if we use it, they get a box of chocolates and bragging rights.

AP: What’s the strangest combination that you’ve put into a chocolate bar, or chocolate bark?

PM: I’d probably say bacon. Last Father’s Day we introduced two chocolate bars specifically for Father’s Day. One was a potato chip bar, which was not such a stretch for me. The other was a bacon bit bar, and we did it because people had been asking us. And then most recently, in anticipation of the Super Bowl, we did a chocolate bark with potato chips, pretzels and bacon bits—so you get the salty and the crunchy—and then drizzled it with the caramel. And that’s been a fun one. Certainly very different, but people come back for it. 

AP: Anything you’ve tried and haven’t tried again because it just didn’t work?

PM: Yes. We did a chili flake dark chocolate bar, which was a bit much. That didn’t work so well, it was just kinda too hot. We had some folks who really liked it, but survey kind of said go back to the drawing board. So we are. 

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