So what exactly do Pioneer Restaurant, the local Verizon Wireless, and DT Hardware have in common?
Really not much other than that they share the west 231st block with a new player in town. Not so much a player; more like a melter. Chocolate melter that is. Welcome Leila’s Hand Dipped Chocolates; the best treat to enter the Bronx since hip-hop.
Passing by the plethora of shops surrounding the paved canals and bustle of rubber against cracked cement I, or I should say, my nostril senses began to tingle. They detected the likes of a sweet, comforting, yet almost arousing scent that brought back memories of being ‘lost’ in Hershey Park. The aroma entered through my nose and kissed my brain as I struggled to find it’s origin. Luckily my struggle was quickly relieved as was I, to see Leila’s; a quaint little chocolate shop sitting there so innocently next to the local Verizon wireless store.
I hesitated not to enter and was dumbfounded by the uniqueness of a chocolatier here in the Boogie down, not to mention the wide smile encompassing my face. Ahhh, who doesn’t love the sweet smell of cocoa and coffee? Bliss in dozens of flavors, shapes and sizes. Vividly lit to see each and every articulately melted and molded treat, Leila’s invites and soothes. If the quietly peaceful environment doesn’t lull you in, their eye candy will consume you first. Only open since April, Leila’s offers a wide selection of sweets, sugar free treats, kosher pleasantries, ice cream, gelato and coffee. But don’t dare call these splendors candy! Everything on the menu is of the purest quality chocolate, not only melting in your mouth, but allowing your body to flow with it.
The owner was kind enough to allow me to interview him AND sample several of his products. Check out the interview below then be sure to see the Top Ten Treats!
Leila’s Hand Dipped Chocolate
Bronx, NY 10463
Keith Mitchell: Owner
Accountant, Photographer, Screenwriter, Chocolatier
What inspired you to open up your own chocolate shop?
I worked in a chocolate store many years ago, like in the 90’s, called Evelyn’s Chocolates. I just really liked the atmosphere. I liked the customer friendliness of the place. It just seemed like people were happy when they came to buy chocolate. I thought that’s the kind of thing I want to do, you know, be able to talk to people, be able to meet those, but have good conversation and atmosphere.
How does one go about opening up a chocolate shop?
I actually got laid off in December, from my job, I’m an accountant. Before starting to look for work, I said, let me just see if I’m able to do something on my own; see if I have enough resources. I started looking for stores, you know, and I found this location. The rent was high but we negotiated a better price. They were able to come down to a price that I could afford. Everything just seemed like it fell into place. I got my friend who still owns the other chocolate store. He came in and looked at the setup and explained to me the best way to do it. He actually supplied me with a lot of my chocolate to start me up. He still supplies a lot of my chocolate actually. He makes chocolate in the store where I make a very small amount. I don’t make as much as he does because I don’t have those kinds of resources. I don’t make all of my chocolate; yet. I started scouting out equipment, getting what I needed to get. Figure out the best way to do in a way that doesn’t kill me financially, but I’m able to slowly recoop the investment.
How did you choose this location?
There were only two locations I was willing to do this in and this was one of them. The other was on Jerome Ave. near Montefiore, just because the commercial traffic is enough and there’s just enough traffic to support this kind of business if the product is good. Most other places for this kind of business you need to have just a lot of people walking by. The chocolate store in Manhattan, Evelyn’s, does really well just because there are a lot of people walking by.
Have you used any specific marketing tactics?
Specific tactics? No. I just keep trying stuff; whatever works. I do more, whatever doesn’t work I toss. I’m planning to do more with marketing now that I have this Gelato freezer and just sort of trying to find a way to market myself as an all around shop for all the treats you would imagine. Not low-end, not like a candy store. Like a nice dessert-chocolatier shop.
Do you have a website?
Not yet, but I have the domain. I try to do too much on my own. I don’t like to just give people stuff to do; not that I’m a control freak, I just like take things into my own hands. I’ve been planning on doing the website myself I just haven’t gotten the chance to yet.
What process does the chocolate go through?
We have a machine that melts the chocolate. It’s simple. You just throw big blocks of chocolate into the machine and it melts it down and then you have molds. You either mold it into different things or you can add nuts or fruit. Most of the things that I do are nuts or simple things like strawberries. I use a small amount of molds, but eventually my goal is to do everything here. I just think I’m over-tasking myself. I’m trying to do the gelato myself too.
What about the clusters?
The clusters are not molds. You pretty much just put the nuts on a tray and mess around with it with your hands to form it. The chocolate cool; as it cools it takes a shape and you can change that shape with your hand. Once you get the hang of it it’s simple. It’s a little difficult to get the hang of, to produce something that looks presentable to eat, but like I said, once you get the hang of it it’s simple. The one thing we don’t make here, which is probably our biggest seller, are these little cakes.
So what are your major goals from here on out?
We have ice cream, we’ll have frozen yogurt soon. Most importantly I want my shop to be Kosher certified and I’m going to need a Rabbi to come in soon for that. I would also like to have all my chocolates made in store and prove that my ice cream is better than Baskin Robbins. I buy only from local shops to show my support for local small business. Eventually I want to expand my coffee business and establish my shop as a fine place to get a great cup of coffee and some amazing desserts; kind of like a European-esque dessert shop. My major goal is to leave something for my daughter. It’s called Leila’s, that’s my daughter. For me, I struggled as a kid. I grew up in the projects, south Bronx. I was homeless for many years of my life so I can’t imagine seeing my daughter go through those things. This is sort of like leaving her some way to get through school, so she doesn’t have to worry about tuition and…the things that I had to worry about. I’m not looking to make a million dollars; I’m just trying to build a sustainable business model.
And so you all know what to get (as if you could choose) when you come to Leila’s, Keith has provided us with the Top Ten Treats!
- RED VELVET CAKE with WHITE CHOCOLATE
- HAZELNUT TRUFFLE
- RAINBOW COOKIE
- RED VELVET CAKE with DARK CHOCOLATE
- COOKIES and CREAM ICE CREAM
- DARK CHOCOLATE and GRANOLA CLUSTER
- CHOCOLATE CHARACTER LOLLIPOPS
- CARROT CAKE with WHITE CHOCOLATE
- ALMOND BUTTER CRUNCH
- TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CAKE
Leila’s is definitely a sweet place to go during any time of the year, for awesome holiday gifts or just to kick it and endeavor upon a tantalizing journey through your sense. I’ve been lucky enough to sample some of these treats and I definitely agree with number 1. The Red Velvet Cake with white chocolate is absolute bliss. Slightly chilled it has the texture of the softest cheesecake and will easily soak your buds with temptation for more. The rainbow cookies are like no other, yet remain very reasonably priced. Aside from these favorites I also got to sample the un-melted, pure chocolate. Holy shit! Out of this world. The chocolate melts in your mouth so effortlessly, allowing your entire body to follow with ease. The dark chocolate is rich and smooth enough to make Bond look jagged. These aromatic doors are open for all to enjoy and I think Leila’s has brought a good thing to the neighborhood, giving locals a good reason to smile and let their taste buds loose.
Leila’s Hand Dipped Chocolates
225 w231st Street Bronx, NY 10463
Many thanks to Keith at Leila’s for the interview and amazing samples of chocolates. Good luck and great success chocolatier!