Business booms around the holidays for Darke County chocolatier
You'll find something unexpected in a small town straddling the Ohio-Indiana border: a renowned chocolatier.
A Darke County man, Ghyslain Maurais, has created a unique painted chocolate product in Union City that has grown in popularity and now brings pleasure to both eyes and sweet tooth's far and wide.
Slightly out of place
It was the sign that first caught my attention. It was not dark with block letters on a light background hanging above the door like most others in the area. This one was colorful, not too large, and set out front. It had an aesthetic touch and a French name that seemed slightly out of place.
"We produce chocolate, mainly hand-painted chocolate, and croissants, baguettes, brioche, creme brulee, cheesecake, flourless cake, and macarons," said Ghyslain Maurais.
Maurais is the owner of Ghyslain Chocolatier. He greeted me in the store's sleek showroom with its black tile floors and stainless steel display cases full of brightly painted chocolate.
Maurais grew up north of Montreal. He said while in college studying architecture, he took a job at a local country club washing dishes and helping in the kitchen.
"I decided that I was rather more enjoying the kitchen than enjoying the drawing board." Maurais said, "So I told my dad what my plan was, and after he had to really [chuckles] breathe a couple of times, we decided I was going to try cooking and I went to culinary school in Montreal."
We took a quick tour of the back of the store, past the packaging room where the bite-sized chocolates are sorted and boxed, through the bright and clean kitchen with its vats of chocolate constantly being stirred, and then through a small room that reminded me of an artist studio.
"This is where the painting happens," Maurais said.
With spray guns, brushes, and sponges, the molds are hand-painted before being filled with chocolate.
After graduating from culinary school, Maurais embarked on a career as head chef of the Canadian consulate in New York City and then as chef of the same consulate in London, where he took the opportunity to advance his training in the art of chocolate from the best that Europe had to offer.
"And when I moved back to Canada, I forgot how cold it was [laughter]." Maurais said, "So after a few years over there I decided I needed to go back south."
Maurais determined that western Ohio was warm enough for him and took a job running the kitchen at the Inn at Versailles. It was there that he met a woman who would become his wife and convince him to settle in her hometown of Union City.
He eventually left the Inn at Versailles and opened Ghyslain Chocolatier in 1998.
When you're stuck, you have to find something
To promote his budding company, Maurais booked a space at a food show in New York City.
"A person came to me and said 'Why would I buy truffles from Indiana? There are about twelve people here showing truffles and why would I buy them from Indiana? I would buy corn from Indiana.'' Maurais said, "That really kind of upset me. I said, 'Wow, what am I going to do if everyone turns me down because I'm from Indiana'"?
He realized he needed to do something to stand out from the competition and thought color might do the trick.
"It took about two or three years to come up with the first line of hand-painted chocolates," Maurais said. "When you're stuck, you have to find something. It's hard to explain but I didn't know if it would work, I didn't know If you could make enough chocolate in one day, because it takes a long time, to make a living. What kind of talent would the employees have to have"?
25 years later, the risk looks to have paid off. Maurais' hand-painted chocolates can be found in high-end hotels and restaurants across the United States. His painting technique has also had a big effect on the retail chocolate market.
"We created a trend when we started painting the chocolate." Maurais said, "It became our trademark and now most of the high-end companies paint their chocolates like we do. But it was created here in Union City. Nobody knows that."
Maurais said he now paints around one hundred thousand individual chocolates a week, more around the holidays.
This story was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.