NIAGARA FALLS – Mary Ann Hess scrolls through the photos on her phone, calling out an endless stream of names of famous people she’s met and exciting places she’s been in recent years.
And her delicious handcrafted chocolates, known as Niagara’s Honeymoon Sweets, are the reason.
“We’ve been to and provided chocolates to the Oscars, twice; the Emmys; the Golden Globes; and the 2014 private tailgate party for the Super Bowl in New Jersey,” she said. “We also sent our chocolates to the Kentucky Derby and several Miss USA state pageants.
“And we represented Western New York and handed out 690 of our chocolate Niagara Falls medallions for the New York State Society Women’s Inaugural Gala for President Obama in Washington, and we’re going to do the next inauguration, too,” she added.
Hess started Niagara’s Honeymoon Sweets in the basement of her Niagara Falls home a decade ago, when her 4-year-old grandson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and the family needed to supplement its income to cover some medical costs, she recalled.
Friends and family encouraged her to sell candy, something she had been making as gifts for years, and the idea took off. Now she has state and federal certification as a “woman-owned business.”
She moved into a shop at 5540 Porter Road, Niagara Falls, (the former Certo Bros. building now owned by Bryk Plumbing) last summer. Entrance into an elegant foyer with deep red accents leads customers either into Hess’sfirst-floor Shop Hair Studio – because she’s also a full-time hairdresser – or upstairs to a room with her eclectic candy displays.
Next on her agenda – or rather handyman Doug’s agenda (her husband of 38 years) – is the creation of a chocolate “factory” on the first floor, when she can move the candy-making operations from her home. Altogether, she leases 3,000 square feet.
“This is the best chocolate in town,” exclaimed Niagara Falls City Councilman Ken Tompkins, a friend of Hess. “And, she has so much Falls-oriented stuff. She’s somebody who really cares about the city.”
Friends Jennifer Vitagliano and her sister, Jackie Lennert, help Hess out at special events, offering samples of her handiwork.
“Customers love the chocolates and they love her,” Vitagliano said. “She’s amazing.”
Vincent Agnello, director of the Family Business Center at Niagara University, and a friend of 30 years, told Hess she needed a business marketing plan from the start.
“Every business needs to utilize its resources and we at the Family Business Center are just one of many,” Agnello said. “And, I’ve taught her, connections matter.”
Hess said, “Everybody’s been wonderful to me.”
She recently took some time off to give a tour and chat about her businesses.
You have a number of Falls-related edibles. Are you Niagara Falls born and raised?
Yes. We went to Trott (Vocational High School) – that’s where I met my husband.
You make so many different items – can you name just a few?
I have a two-inch medallion of Niagara Falls; a (daredevil) barrel; I have edible photos; and cherry-almond biscotti. The heart-breakers are probably our biggest seller – they’re pretzels, caramel, buttercrunch and chocolate. We also have chocolate-covered potato chips and pretzels. I also do a lot of custom work.
If you want a little cluster, chances are we’ll have it here. But if you want something off the wall, we have that, too. I have unique flavors like lemon pistachio and orange-cranberry-walnut and snapping turtles if you like a little kick. That’s chocolate that bites you back.
When do you find the time?
I’ve been a full-time hairdresser for 36 years. Evenings and weekends, I make chocolate.
I come up with my new ideas in my sleep and then I wake up and say, “I’m going to do this.”
What’s your price range and where are your products available?
Two dollars and up. They’re available here at the shop and through my website, http://niagarashoneymoonsweets.com or you can call 304-6803.
What’s your next big gig?
I have a five-star world chef, Kirk Ehrlich, representing me on the West Coast. He’s about to introduce my Hollywood’s Confection Bar at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, for 250 members of the media.
Who are some of the folks you’ve met as a chocolatier?
I was with Mickey Rooney three weeks before he died. We’ve met Glenn Close, Jordin Sparks, Lou Ferrigno, Chaka Khan, Laura Dern, J.B. Smoove and Paul Sorvino serenaded me. I made a big chocolate photo of Sandra Bullock for “Gravity.”
How do you get your products to places like Hollywood?
We ship through Fed Ex. Doug does all of my paperwork, packaging and shipping. Our daughter, Corian, also helps out wherever we need her. And, I always have others who will come in and offer me a hand, like stay in the chocolate shop for me if I’m working downstairs.
Who else do you market to?
We do favors or centerpieces for weddings and showers and conventions, as welcoming gifts for colleges. We do chocolate business cards or special business logos. We’ve done edible chocolate photo medallions for a 100th birthday party; and we’ve done chocolates for dignitaries for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. Whatever you can imagine, we’ll do it.
The past five years have been nonstop meeting people. I know everyone from every walk of life. You never know who’s going to show up at the door.
My chocolate’s been to France, Finland, Dubai – with people I’ve met through different businesses who travel.
You’d be surprised where chocolate gets you. It’s incredible.
What are your goals?
New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Assemblyman John Ceretto have been assisting me in getting involved with Taste New York throughout the state. I am also part of Made in New York and have trademarks in Canada and the U.S. I’m a member of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
I’m also very involved in the Music and Art Festival in Niagara Falls.
But I’d love to get involved in sporting events and conventions in Buffalo, too.
Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.