The roots of Carlisle’s newest chocolate boutique begins years ago on another continent.
“For me, it’s really a long, long wonderful relationship with Belgian chocolates in general and Neuhaus specifically,” said Craig Howard, who recently opened Exquisite Chocolates of Carlisle with his wife, Pamela, at 35 S. Hanover St.
The couple’s love of Belgian chocolates starts with Craig, who “worked, lived and studied” in Belgium for seven years. The first Neuhaus chocolate he ever had was the cone-shaped “cornet,” a milk chocolate hazelnut concoction that now occupies a spot in the front case of Exquisite Chocolates.
“This is so much better than the Nutella,” he said, emphasis on the “so.”
Craig shared his love of chocolate with Pam while he was stationed in Germany during his Navy career.
“He got to show me all the wonderful chocolates in Belgium. We fell in love with their amazing chocolates,” she said.
The two decided that if they ever had the chance, they would combine his love of chocolate with her experience in a Las Vegas catering business to open a shop specializing in chocolate.
Neuhaus Chocolates rose to the top of their list. Neuhaus traces its origins to a pharmacist who, in 1857, covered medicine in chocolate to make it more palatable for his customers. Later, his grandson took out the medicine and filled the space with a chocolate cream, thus inventing the praline.
“We were presented with the opportunity to import Neuhaus in 2017, and we sat on it for a year and a half,” Pam said.
The couple looked for a home for their business back then, but a couple of the places they considered were not ready to rent yet, Pam said. So, the plan was put on the back burner.
Then, as they were preparing to start looking again, the space that formerly housed the Carlisle Bakery became available.
“It was perfect. Everything came together timing-wise for us,” Pam said.
The Howards signed the lease in March, hoping to have everything in place by Mother’s Day, but there was a lot of work involved in transforming the former bakery into a chocolate shop. In addition to painting the room and switching out the ceiling fans for the chandeliers common to the Neuhaus stores, the switch also included electrical work to bring the showcase to the center of the room.
The store opened on Memorial Day, and they held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting in July.
Craig believes the addition of the shop is a step in giving Carlisle an identity for chocolates, and making it a destination location. He pointed to Mummert’s Chocolates on West Pomfret Street and to the Lindt shop at its distribution center in South Middleton Township.
In addition to those shops, Carlisle is also host to Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy and Gifts, Helena’s Chocolate Cafe & Creperie, and Mechanicsburg-based Brittle Bark has a presence at American Artisan Gallery.
“We differentiate ourselves not only on the top-end Belgian import, which is the world’s best, but five award-winning American chocolate makers in our line with real humorous animal creations. Nobody else has that,” Craig said.
The shop also offers desserts from Ghyslain and Bindi. It will soon be stocking sodas from Reading Soda Works and juices from Lumi. These two drink companies from Pennsylvania add a home state touch to the business.
“While a lot of what we bring in is imported and a few of our chocolates are from the states, we’re starting to bring in a few more specific-to-Pennsylvania companies,” Pam said.
Craig said several people have already visited the store multiple times because they can’t get the products being offered anywhere else.
“The closest for Neuhaus, in particular, you’d have to go to either Manhattan or Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Exquisite Chocolates would like to move into bridal and special events lines, Pam said. Already, they have had requests from bed and breakfasts and real estate agents asking them to provide chocolates.
“We’re just having fun. We love the joy we bring to people with really quality chocolate product and all the other things that we sell,” Craig said.