Chocolate and love go hand in hand. People call themselves chocolate lovers, they give chocolate in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day and share it on other holidays, too. It’s sweet, it’s rich, it’s decadent. What’s not to love?
For the Edwards family, that love runs deeper than most; making handcrafted chocolates is what they’ve loved doing for 105 years and counting.
To learn how a humble Pittsburgh chocolate shop grew to become three brands enjoyed near and far, we sat down with fourth generation chocolate maker, Chris Edwards who, along with his sister Dana and brother Mark, runs a trio of confectionary companies.
“Candy making is in our blood,” Chris, CEO of Edward Marc Brands, told us. “My brother, sister and I grew up in the family business. We were around chocolate our entire lives. We did have other careers, but we decided that together we wanted to come back to the family business.”
That business began in 1914 when the Edwards’ great grandparents, Charlie and Orania, brought their candy making skills from Greece to Pittsburgh. They opened a small shop, and over the course of the next two generations, their children and grandchildren expanded to a factory and eventually a second production facility. It was already an incredible success story, but the best was yet to come.
As the company entered the 21st century, the fourth generation took the helm. Chris, Dana and Mark transformed the company from a local favorite to the three brands customers enjoy today: Edward Marc Chocolatier, Snappers Crafted Snacks and The Milkshake Factory. Despite these accomplishments they haven’t lost sight of their roots.
“The chocolate recipe we use is from my great grandfather and grandfather. We still have the recipe books that were written by my great grandfather, so we stay true to those recipes. We continue to put twists on the original recipes, but we try to be true to the generations that came before us” Chris said.
The most delicious twists on a traditional recipe are the pretzel-caramel clusters known as Snappers Crafted Snacks. Based on the traditional caramel and chocolate turtle (hence the name), Snappers were the brainchild of Chris, Dana and Mark. They wanted to make something snackable, so they took the pecans out of the recipe for their version of a turtle, the Terrapin, and replaced them with crunchy pretzels.
“It sounds simple, but it’s one of the best-tasting pieces of candy,” Chris said. “My grandfather taught us how to make caramel…that was one of his best recipes. We wanted to make a product that was known for the caramel.”
Giant Eagle was one of the very first to give Snappers a shot. A few years later, they’ve taken the snack world by storm with their combination of robust caramel, rich chocolate and homemade pretzels.
“It’s amazing that we had this idea six years ago and now you see it all over. It’s a really special feeling to make something here in Pittsburgh and have it distributed all over.”
Edward Marc’s success doesn’t come without responsibility. In the chocolate industry poverty, deforestation, climate change and child labor are all too common.
“We work in this luxury industry and in these equatorial regions where they grow cocoa beans people live in very difficult conditions. It’s a very different life and that’s something the industry has tried to tackle over the last 20 years. We think all different sized businesses can make an impact and be involved and we’re going to do our part.”
Edward Marc has been helping six women cocoa farmers through Cocoa Horizons. Among many other things, this program helps farmers improve their lives, build self-sustaining communities and get their business up and running in an industry in which it takes several years for crops to become viable.
“We’ve been a women-owned business for four generations starting with my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mom and now my sister,” Chris Said. “Something that’s very important to us is being able to help other women entrepreneurs.”
In an industry that takes him to all corners of the globe, and a company with products available in far-reaching places, it could be easy to lose sight of the importance of being local. For Chris and the rest of the Edward Marc team, that was never really a possibility. Four generations of history keep them firmly planted in Pittsburgh. And they know they need their neighbors.
“We couldn’t do what we do if we weren’t in Pittsburgh. People in Pittsburgh support hometown companies…we do as much as we can to support other small businesses,” Chris said. “It’s a really unique city that’s going through this renaissance and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Chris also stressed how much they enjoy working with Giant Eagle, not just because it’s another hometown company, but because they’ve basically been neighbors since the beginning. The chocolate shop originally owned by Charlie and Orania was just a few doors down from OK Grocery, a store owned by some of Giant Eagle’s founding families, in Lawrenceville.
“[The Giant Eagle founders] would come in, sit in the back booth and come up with plans for how they were going to grow their family business. It’s such a Pittsburgh story. You always find people that are connected.”
As important as being true to Pittsburgh is for Edward Marc, Snappers and the Milkshake Factory, the real heart of the company is even closer to home. Chris happily acknowledged that his parents are still heavily involved. They join in company meetings and offer advice on what to do on a daily basis.
“We couldn’t do what we do without their knowledge and without understanding how the generations that came before us were able to grow the business,” Chris said. “Being able to work with my family creating incredible products that bring a smile to people’s faces is really special.”
It all goes to show what’s possible when something is truly made with love… and amazing chocolate.