Sometimes when customers walk in Rebecca Burns’ candy shop and see the shelves of truffles, brittle, fudge and tarts, they start to play the blame game.
“They kind of point at me and tell me I should be ashamed of myself for making this much chocolate, because they’re so tempted to try everything,” Burns, 46, said, while standing behind the counter of her LeClaire shop. “But no, I could never be ashamed of this.”
That’s the premise of her store, called The Shameless Chocoholic.
Burns has been in and out of the chocolate business since she was a teenager, selling her samples to friends and later starting a shop out of her home. Her most recent, and probably most successful venture, has been open for nearly three years on Jones Street. She also owns a coffee shop, where Hillary Clinton happened to make a stop in April.
Burns’ business partner, Jennifer Williams, said part of the shop’s charm relies on its location.
“LeClaire is a small, magical little town, and we’re a small-town shop,” she said. “People come in here to be a little bit happier. We’re really in the happy business.”
Williams wasn’t a chocolate person or a retail person when she met Burns. Williams retired from a customer service job with AT&T and wasn’t looking for another job, but she was won over by one taste of a truffle.
“If you try her chocolates, you’re kind of automatically a chocolate person,” Williams said. “I was sold from my first bite, and I was like, 'Yes, I want to be a part of this.'”
Burns probably could convert anyone into a chocoholic, but she hasn’t always been that way. She grew up with health-nut type parents and was never allowed to eat much sugar.
“So I kind of laugh and say I rebelled and made my life about sugar,” she said. “Plus, I was always told that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and that stayed with me.”
In the shop, they have more than 100 different treats strewn about and are usually trying out a new recipe. They have chocolate-covered orange peels and rice-crispy treats, chocolates in shapes like a Jack Daniel’s bottle and caramel-covered potato chips. In another room, a host of old-fashioned “penny candies” await, including gummy bears, dot candy and jelly beans.
“It can be overwhelming to see all of the options and not even know where to go or what to try,” Burns said. “We see a lot of overwhelmed eyeballs.”
Customers’ first impressions are fun to watch, she said. No matter their age, customers have the look of kids in a candy shop.
“They say, ‘Oh my god, it smells amazing in here,’ and their eyes just zoom in on everything,” Burns said. “It’s like a trip down memory lane.”
During production days, the kitchen can look reminiscent of a scene from the Willy Wonka movie. They deal with hundreds of pounds of chocolate, exclusively ordered from The Guittard Chocolate Co., which is based in California. They melt it down with a chocolate machine and spend hours baking, decorating and adding the finishing touches. It can be exhausting, but Burns never calls it work.
“I call it playing, because it’s really so much fun,” she said. “It can get tedious and tiresome, because chocolate is messy, and we do everything ourselves.”
But making chocolate is a lifestyle, she said. A sign in her shop says, “I’d give up chocolate, but I’m not a quitter.”
To be a chocoholic, you don’t have to eat chocolates by the tons. And you should never be ashamed of indulging. Even Burns echoes the motto, “everything in moderation.”
“If the quality is good, you’re going to appreciate that little bite,” Burns said. “It’s all about indulging in that one little piece that’s gourmet or above the rest.”
As for Williams, she likes talking to regular customers and newbies each day and recommending a treat for them. Her days are starting to revolve around chocolate, too.
“Chocolate has the power to change your day from a bad day to a good day, and we all need that,” Williams said. “If you’re feeling down, come in and spend a dollar on a truffle. It’ll probably make you feel better.”