Friday, February 12, 2010

A Chocolate Lover’s Dream in Ogunquit

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
There’s a buzz of activity at Harbor Candy Shop in Ogunquit these days. As Valentine’s Day approaches, owner Jean Foss and her staff are hard at work, preparing nearly 100 varieties of chocolate that have satisfied customers from near and far for over three decades.
“I started it because I wanted to live in Maine,” Foss said. “My parents had operated it as a seasonal business, open a few weeks a year. My father was very gifted when it came to making anything.”
The original seasonal shop was located near the Main Beach parking area, in the building that houses Huckleberry’s today. Foss moved it to its current Route 1 location.
“I put my mind to owning the real estate,” she said. “It grew gradually and now is open year round.”
Most people are familiar with the retail end of the operation, the shop that is a few doors north of the Village Food Market. What many people don’t know, however, is that the shop contains a veritable chocolate factory as well, where the staff creates by hand the turtles, truffles, fudge and other chocolate delights that have a national following.
“The store is known outside the state, maybe more than inside,” Foss said. “We have a mail order business from customers we pick up in the summer. 85 percent of our business is from the shop. That leads to the 10 to 15 percent of mail order and that sustains us in the winter.”
Foss said the key to producing excellent candy is a combination of things. “The recipe is important, but the ‘feel’ is watching the process as you go along,” she said. “It’s about trouble shooting. Once in a while you might notice that something might not be right, maybe the temperature or the humidity. Very few people know about chocolate. (Making it) is more complex than something like baking.”
Another key is freshness. “The shelf life varies by product,” Foss said. “Some kinds are good for two weeks, some for three, and some less. We make everything fresh. We try to keep freshness in mind all the time. Why sell something that’s really nice and then destroy it by virtue of your timing?”
The popularity of a particular variety varies by the time of year. “In the summer, people like classic, simple fudge,” Foss said. “Turtles are one of our best varieties. We make them all from scratch. There are no short cuts. That’s what brings people back.”
For Valentine’s Day, truffles take center stage. “They are the item,” said Foss. “Thirty years ago, we headed off to France to learn the basics of what a true truffle is. It must be fresh and kept cool. We throw them away after two weeks.”
Another characteristic of Harbor Candy is its ability to produce some of its chocolate without depending on traditional dairy products. That has earned the shop an award from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “We have a number of products that were already vegan, with no dairy or anything,” Foss said. “We developed a truffle by making it with soy milk. We have a milk chocolate made with rice milk. It is good for health reasons, for people who can’t use diary products.”
They key, though, is the care that Foss and the staff take to create their hand-made delicacies. “We’re small, not big and showy,” said Foss. “That’s how nice chocolate works.”
Photo caption: Harbor Candy Shop owner Jean Foss with a sampling of the nearly 100 varieties of chocolate the shop produces. (Jim Kanak photo)