The Treat Shop: Home of the 20-lb. Chocolate Easter Bunny
- Categorized in: Carroll Business – Past Issues
Trevis Alban, owner of the Treat Shop, molds white chocolate.
It was mid-February. Valentine’s Day was over and Trevis Alban, the owner of the Treat Shop in Westminster, was taking a couple of days’ break before he launched into his next big season: Easter.
This year, Easter comes late, at the end of April, and for Alban, that is a good thing.
“By then, they’ve eaten all their candy from Valentine’s. The later Easter is, the better sales are,” said Alban, who had already ordered his chocolate and stacked his molds in readiness for the more than1,000 different kinds of Easter bunnies he would begin making in early March.
Alban bought the Treat Shop in 1996. The confectionary store is practically a Carroll County institution; about 70 years old and originally located on Westminster’s Main Street. Known far and wide for its hand-made chocolates, it is the only chocolate factory in the county.
“I knew retail but I didn’t know chocolate,” said Alban, who has an undergraduate business degree and was vice president and general manager of a local swimming pool construction and maintenance company before buying the store.
But he wanted to be his own boss and he knew the reputation of the Treat Shop, where he had been a customer for years. He credits the shop’s employees, many of them long-time workers, with teaching him the art of chocolate-making. All have since retired except for Betsy Bowersox, who now serves as factory supervisor.
Alban, 41, was born in Hampstead and raised in Westminster where he now lives with his family. As the Treat Shop has grown, Alban has had to move the business to progressively larger quarters. The current location, 15 South Cranberry Road, Westminster, is a 3,000-square foot space in a small shopping center next to Cranberry Square.
Alban designed and built the interior, intending to expand the offerings beyond the chocolates for which the shop is known. An old-fashioned soda fountain complete with a counter and stools is located in an alcove. Glass bins of gourmet coffees and teas are stacked along a wall. Colorful displays of jelly beans, M&Ms, Swedish fish and hard candies are available in scoop-your-own displays.
The heart of the shop, though, remains its hand-made chocolates. They are displayed in trays in a long glass case, from chocolate-covered strawberries and mint truffles to cashew turtles and a small selection of sugar-free chocolates.
“They’re perishable,” said Alban, “so you don’t want to make too much [of one item]. Very little is lost because I keep track of how many of which items are selling,” said Alban, a self-professed “numbers cruncher” whose attention to detail has enabled him to cut waste and, along with the purchase of new equipment, increase production.
Besides the loose candy, Alban offers seasonal gift boxes, makes specialty chocolates upon request and runs a mail-order business. He estimates the number of customers at 50,000 a year and gross annual sales of under $500,000, of which chocolate accounts for 90 percent.
The chocolate factory is located in the rear of the building, behind the retail portion of the shop. The air is fragrant with the sweet smell of chocolate, and no wonder; an industrial-sized mix-master is melting and stirring a 50-pound block of chocolate.
Alban explained the process: The melted chocolate is poured into a machine where fillings can be added. The items pass through a 23-foot long cooling tunnel, after which they are dry enough to be “cupped” (put in fluted paper cups) and boxed. In a nearby temperature-controlled “cool room,” trays of chocolate-dipped strawberries rest on trays.
Three holidays account for 85 percent of Alban’s annual business: Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Along with his three full-time employees, he may hire up to 10 part-time workers for his busy seasons.
Like other businesses, the Treat Shop has felt the effects of the economic downturn. But Alban’s is particularly vulnerable to the weather and it has taken almost a year to recover from the winter of 2009-2010.
“The week of Christmas we had a 20-inch snowstorm. We were closed for four days the week of Valentine’s Day,” he said of the back-to-back snowstorms. “When you rely that heavily on a holiday, it crushed us.”
Each holiday has its own flavor. For Christmas, favorites are assorted chocolate items in a square-shaped gift box and mixes of old-fashioned hard candies.
Valentine’s Day calls for heart-shaped boxes filled with assorted chocolates. Alban stocks several different styles and sizes, from a seven-pound red ribbon-trimmed box for $150 to the one-pound box, the most popular. This year, Alban sold 450 of the latter, the cost of which ranges from $22 to $45 depending on its chocolate mix.
At Easter, chocolate bunnies reign. Traditionally, Alban makes at least one 4-foot-high, hollow, chocolate Easter bunny – 20 pounds of chocolate for $400 – and it sells. Bunnies come in various sizes, from 4 inches tall to a standard 8 inches. He sells about 200 of the 8-inchers in milk, dark, white, pink and green chocolate for $10 and up depending on whether they are solid or hollow.
Actually, chocolate anything is popular at Easter. Alban uses a minimum of 5,000 pounds of chocolate to make the bunnies as well as ballerinas, soccer balls, ducks, bears and various breeds of dogs. Other best sellers are cream-filled chocolate Easter eggs and pecan nougats.
The Treat Shop supports the fund-raising efforts of several local schools and youth sports teams, including East Middle and Liberty High schools, and West Carroll Cheer, a cheerleading squad. He also donates gift baskets to churches and nonprofit organizations for their fund-raisers.
As Alban has found out, the Treat Shop is hardly a 9 to 5 business. “It’s challenging. It can be stressful,” he said. “But I’m happy to be my own boss. The Treat Shop is a long-time business and it’s nice to keep one of the very few of those afloat.”