Paradise Candy business a labor of (family) love
You've heard of Swiss chocolate, Belgian chocolate and Dutch chocolate. But Greek chocolate?
"Our area seems to have had a concentration of Greek chocolatiers," said Anna Berg, of Washington, the third generation of a Greek chocolate making family in the city. "There are the Sarrises, the Bardoses, the Boulises and, of course, us."
Mrs. Berg's great uncle, Peter Paradise, started the family's candy business in the 1920s with a store on Chestnut Street which maintained a soda fountain in addition to a large selection of sweet chocolate treats. In 1948, he brought his nephew, Jake, over from the Greek island of Lipsos to help out in the candy enterprise.
Eventually the young man took over the business that moved to the basement of the family home in Washington in 1974, when the store was vacated to make way for the Millcraft Center.
Paradise Candy is at 1295 Donnan Ave. in Washington. For more information, phone 724-228-7749.
Through the ensuing years the business maintained a following of devoted chocolate fans including Gary Bogatay, an ex-Millcraft employee who now lives in Imperial.
"I discovered Paradise Candy about 35 years ago when I took my two children to the Ruschel Studio to sit for a family portrait," he said. "After the session was over, the photographer handed each of us one of Paradise's Frozen Worlds, [a ball of vanilla ice cream covered with chocolate] and I've been eating their candy ever since."
Jake Paradise was known for his chocolate creams, chocolate- covered nuts, jellies, sea foam (divinity), chocolate caramels and mint patties. At Christmas, his chocolate covered cherries with liquid centers took front and center.
However, when Jake came back from his last trip to Greece in 1993 he told his family the time had come to pass on the business. That's when his daughter, Anna and her husband, David Berg stepped in.
"We started taking over in mid-September of 1993 when Dad was sick, but we had a lot of his secrets to learn," said Mrs. Berg. "Once, while he was in the hospital, he asked us to bring him some roasted nuts. When he tasted them, he thought they were OK, but said we could have roasted them in half the time. 'I'll show you how when I get out,' he said."
When Jake died in 1994, some of the Paradise customer base thought the business was over, and it took the Bergs a while to get it back on its feet. To keep up with the times, they've eliminated Jake's jellies and sea foam from the inventory but have added novelty items such as chocolate lollipops and chocolate covered popcorn, pretzels and almond biscotti.
Today, Jake's chocolate covered cherries are still a Christmas favorite and the chocolate creams and nuts still find their way into boxes that start with small quarter pounders and work their way up into chocolate-lover assortments that tip the scales at five pounds.
The Bergs sell only out of their store and take only cash or checks, but they ship all over the nation. They even send Jake's six sisters, who live in Sydney, Australia, a box from time to time.
Both of the Bergs are employed full time, but still manage to work in the store a little each day, which they consider a labor of love. Their two sons, Stephen, 25, and Jonathan, 20, have helped out in the past and do have an interest in seeing the business continue.
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," said Mrs. Berg.
Article by: Dave Zuchowski