Established in New York City in 1987, L.A. Burdick Chocolate was largely-inspired by travel to France and Switzerland by founder Larry Burdick. He and wife Paula — a graduate of the Fashion Institute Of Technology — co-founded the company, as known for both its pure chocolate and its hand-made delicacies. Beyond its online and mail-order offerings, L.A. Burdick now has stores in New York, Boston, nearby Cambridge, and Walpole, New Hampshire; its New York operations are now run out of SoHo on 156 Prince Street.
Beyond the quality of its ingredients, one of Burdick’s trademarks is its seasonal and limited-edition items. Not only does L.A. Burdick have specialty chocolates available for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, but such is also made special for St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the birthday of Robert Burns each year. More about this was uncovered via Q&A with Michael Klug, Burdick’s Head Chocolatier, and Cathy Watson, the brand’s Chief Operating Officer.
How does your new store in SoHo compare to other L.A. Burdick locations?
Cathy Watson: The new location is set up with the same structure as our other locations. It is a bit more compact as it is the smallest square foot store, but it gives us the opportunity to focus on the chocolates. After all, that is who we are.
Michael Klug: All of our store locations have the same flair of old-world Europe, with warm wooden tones on our displays and a welcoming feeling that I would best describe as “ cozy comfort.” However, our Boston location is our largest store with a very generous display of chocolate products and extensive seating capacity. Our Cambridge location is a favorite institution among college students around Harvard Square. The seating and display is more limited.
The SoHo location is our smallest store location, but reflects the same style as all our other stores. Walpole, where we are headquartered, is similar in size than our Cambridge store, with a little larger display option for products. We also have in Walpole our largest loose bonbon display. The café in Walpole shares its store with a local restaurant/bistro that is similar in furnishing style, but does not belong to our company.
To you, what makes L.A. Burdick different from other chocolatiers?
CW: Integrity. Love. Passion. All the ingredients necessary to stay true to who we are and the commitment to continue to give the customers the freshest, highest-quality product consistently for 30 years.
MK: This is a very wide question, and all other chocolatiers are so different from each other in the first place. We stand out by having an extremely strict commitment to freshness; we give our fresh bonbon assortments a shelf life of two weeks. We don’t use any preservatives, artificial ingredients, food colorings or molds. All of our chocolates are very detailed, garnished, are truly handmade and we use only highest-quality ingredients. Our signature chocolate mouse is present in each bonbon assortment and gives our exquisite elegant look a unique charming touch, that separates us easy from all other chocolatiers.
In addition, we focus on the chocolate flavors in our creations and have them being paired with their individual seasonings but not dominated. You will always be able to taste the finesse of the chocolate that is used in our Fig, Raspberry and Ginger bonbons, for example. At last, our hot drinking chocolate stands out as one of the most decadent, rich, complex hot beverages that can be found.
Where are your chocolates sourced from? Or is that a secret?
MK: We source our chocolate from Central and South America, the Caribbean Islands and Madagascar. We only source chocolate that meets our highest criteria, where we want to taste the quality of the cocoa upfront and not the sugar profile that is added to the cocoa. This is a wide problem with mediocre chocolate, that even in a high cocoa percentage chocolate the sugar flavor can be upfront the cocoa flavor. It is due, in these cases .to the large particle size of the sugar crystals.
Do you have a favorite product from L.A. Burdick?
CW: That is difficult, I don’t believe I do. I have many favorites, and depending on how I am feeling will depend on what I may choose.
MK: I personally love the single-source chocolate bars and our chocolate assortment boxes the most. The variety of different creations in the boxes offer me a quick satisfaction for every type of chocolate mood I am currently in.
Are there any holiday-specific products being offered by L.A. Burdick?
CW: Yes, we make handmade chocolate snowmen. They come in a wood box of nine, tied with ice blue French-wired ribbon and handstamped with a silver wax seal.
MK: We have for every holiday a large selection of chocolates. Right now we offer chocolate snowmen, German Christmas Stollen, tuxedo penguins for New Year’s, Hanukkah decorated wood boxes for chocolate assortments and chocolate mice assortments. January, we celebrate Robert Burns’ birthday with a wonderful single scotch whisky assortment. We have a special Asian-inspired chocolate assortment for Lunar New Year. Valentine’s-themed chocolate boxes, which included handcut chocolate heart bonbons. Easter chocolates in a very large variety…Mother’s Day features our chocolate bees and a 10-flavored fruity, floral spring bonbon assortment. Hand-dipped chocolate Elephants from April to August to support the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Halloween-based chocolates with chocolate ghosts, bats and chocolate assortments presented in a coffin box. Thanksgiving, we do handmade chocolate turkeys.
How do the current offerings of L.A. Burdick compare to what the store sold decades ago?
CW: The offerings are still to this day made the same way, and we have many of the same offerings, chocolate mice included. Michael has created other bonbons over the years to add to the collection, as well as creating specialty assortments for holidays…Other whimsicals have been added throughout the years. Snowmen, bunnies, ghosts…
MK: We always create new chocolate bonbons and products, but our style of how they are made and what characteristics dominate them is unchanged. We always look for very thin-shelled handmade chocolate products but our variety is more than doubled of what we did 20 years ago. Some products are still the same, like our classic mice and some of our bonbon like the Baton Framboise, Brazilia and Richelieu. But the variety offers so many options that were still not available back then like, turkeys, snowmen, special seasonal assortments, pate de fruit plain and chocolate covered and many many more.
New store aside, what is coming up for L.A. Burdick?
CW: We will continue to grow the company by putting in new stores in strategic locations, also continue to grow our mail-order business. In this business, when you talk about what is coming up, it’s really about continuing to source and making sure you are always getting the best ingredients. From the use of local farms for our cream and butter, to knowing where the beans come from that create the couverture used for our bonbons. There are so many companies that begin taking shortcuts to show a better profit, and we have to continually be certain that the products and ingredients that we purchase are always the best and will not allow ourselves to purchase anything but. This would mean, changing vendors if the vendor cuts corners.
MK: We will be expanding our retail program to Chicago this coming year, celebrating our 30th anniversary with the presentation of some special bonbons and drinks. Probably adding some more single-source options if we find cocoa sources that meet our standards.
Have you always been passionate about chocolate? Where did you work before L.A. Burdick?
CW: I have always had a sweet tooth — it is my downfall — and I have always loved business. So for me, this was a match made in heaven. I was in the restaurant business for many years before coming to Burdick’s. In fact, I bought a restaurant when I turned 21 instead of going to school. I taught myself how to be successful with a lot of hard work early on.
MK: I was passionate about food since my teens and so fascinated with it that in my early 20s gave up law school in Germany and did a formal education in the German cooking apprentice program. I was fortunate to learn 3 years in two-star Michelin restaurant in Cologne. From there I worked as a cook and pastry assistant under Eckart Witzigmann in Munich — if you Google him that will easy tell how special that experience was for me — and then was the pastry chef for Dieter Mueller’s restaurant in Bergisch Gladbach, which also achieved 3-star Michelin.
I moved to New York in 1993 and was pastry chef of Lespinasse under Gray Kunz and pastry Chef of Chanterelle under David Waltuck in 1997. After working for two years at The Mark Hotel in New York, I became Head Chocolatier at L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates in 2002. So my passion for food and chocolate goes hand in hand, but my base from savory food in my early years in the gastronomic world I consider my strongest asset as a Chocolatier. I always see our product as a delicacy and food product, and not as candy .
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
CW: Hmm…This can sometimes be a problem because I am tied so closely with my position. But I love to travel, go antiquing, and just sit and look out at the ocean. Something low-key and calming.
MK: I always like to travel and taste the food of the world. Sadly that doesn’t happen too often, but cooking at home, enjoying fantastic wines especially reds from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Piedmont and whites from Germany, Loire, Alsace and Austria. I also enjoy fly fishing and classical music. But most of my time is occupied with my family life — my wife Ann-Michele and son Valentin.
Any upcoming concerts or events for you?
CW: Personally? Unfortunately this time of year comes with no plans except a huge family gathering at my house Christmas Eve. I have had it for the past 15 years ever since my dad passed. I don’t have any concerts or events scheduled, I begin thinking of those things in the spring.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
CW: I personally don’t. When I am there, it is all business and I step out to grab a bite. But I love it when I go with Michael, because he is such a foodie that he always has a great place to go.
MK: I have to say since living in Walpole, New Hampshire since 2002, my exposure to the New York restaurant scene is limited. But I do love my dear friend Anita Lo’s Annisa very much. Also for casual great Germanic/Austrian fare, Erwin Schroettner’s Café Katja, the only place were you get great white asparagus when in season.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
CW: Children that are introduced to our chocolate at a young age learn about “real” chocolate. I know a few that have grown to become chocolate snobs and will not eat any other chocolate. It gives them a taste of a high quality product. They love the mice, penguins and snowmen!
MK: Good chocolate is not about cocoa percentage, only about great cocoa.