Claremont candy shop gears up for Valentine’s Day
The canopy of trees, historical architecture and quaint mom-and-pop shops are all ingredients locals love about old-town Claremont. Among the beloved independent boutiques, A-Kline Chocolatier is a lasting flavor.
For the past 40 years, the family-owned chocolate shop has been in the business of satiating the city’s sweet tooth. With plenty of decadent, hand-dipped treats on hand and more made fresh daily, they’ve done a pretty good job meeting the demand.
Keeping the shelves stocked is an intensive process led by store manager Rachel Madrid. Each day of operation, Ms. Madrid and her employees spend nearly eight hours handcrafting and packaging the culinary creations served to chocolate-starved patrons.
The work can be even more demanding in peak holiday seasons, like Valentine’s Day, when nearly 144 pounds of chocolate-dipped strawberries can be expected to fly off the shelves in one day. It’s a lot of dipping, but Ms. Madrid insists her work is more of a luxury than an added labor.
“I don’t know of anyone who walks into a chocolate shop and isn’t happy,” Ms. Madrid said. “The customers and the people I work with make it a great atmosphere to work in.”
Before running the local candy shop, Ms. Madrid was a customer herself, known for filling her children’s Easter baskets and other seasonal goody bags with A-Kline confections. After retiring from her post as a principal at a local Christian school five years ago, Ms. Madrid told her husband she would love to work at a job in the Claremont Village within walking distance from her home. Not long after, she noticed a “help wanted” sign on the storefront of her favorite candy store. She was hired part-time soon after and within 45 days was promoted to store manager. She has been happily helping fellow chocolate lovers ever since.
“I enjoy interacting with the customers, and satiating their cravings. And helping them select chocolates for gifts, that individual attention really satisfies me,” she said.
She doesn’t complain when it comes to making the rich homemade fudge, smooth peanut butter cups and other A-Kline specialties either. Unlike big name chocolate companies like See’s and Rocky Mountain, the hand-dipped decadence found at A-Kline is made on site with the exception of a few items—the famous chocolate turtles among them. Much of those tasty treats are made at the company’s sister store, Village Candy Kitchen, also run by A-Kline’s owners, Richard and Dawn Campbell of Yucaipa, Calif.
The Campbells stumbled into the chocolate-making business more than 20 years ago after being laid off from their executive suite jobs around the same time. Having worked for retail companies for years, they decided to turn the tables and become retailers and manufacturers themselves in an unlikely business, chocolate making. On a trip to the Oak Glen Village for lunch with her mom, Ms. Campbell saw the local candy shop was up for sale and, with a little luck, was chosen as the shop’s new owner not longer after.
Though excited about the new venture, Ms. Campbell admits there was a lot of trial and error in the beginning as she and Mr. Campbell learned how to make the sweet treats the Village Candy Kitchen was known for.
“There is a lot more to it than you can imagine. Baking can be very precise, and the soft centers and caramel can be the trickiest,” Ms. Campbell said. “There were a lot of batches thrown out in the beginning.”
The success they have seen since opening leaves no question they have mastered the sugary science. Steady business at the Village Candy Kitchen allowed the chocolatiers to expand their business to Claremont. Already manufacturing much of the chocolate for the Claremont Village shop, it was an easy transition for the Campbell’s, who took over ownership of A-Kline when the previous owner opted for retirement in the early 1990s.
Helping them out is a team of dedicated employees who love the liberty of adding to the A-Kline menu. Every season, Ms. Madrid and her staff try to come up with something new to add to the already numerous selections.
“The owners allow us to be really creative,” she said.
Ms. Madrid is dedicated to her craft. When on vacation, she will dutifully scout out every candy store in the area, looking for fresh ideas. One of Ms. Madrid’s crowning achievements is the mouthwatering peanut butter crispy, a peanut butter square an inch thick that is hand-dipped in chocolate with rice crispy pieces in every bite.
However, the chocolatier’s most popular item is the truffles, hand-rolled at the boutique every morning. The store prides itself in its selection, with 11 different variations ranging from cafe noir to amaretto and everything in between at $1.45 each. This Valentine’s Day, A-Kline customers are being treated to a brand new truffle flavor, red velvet.
It’s like Christmas in the candy store with the Hallmark holiday just a week away. In addition to the regular staples, sour smooch lips, cupid corn and Valentine’s malt balls have found their way onto shop shelves. Heart-shaped chocolate boxes of all sizes and varieties can also be found in abundance. Candy boxes, pre-filled or available in customizing, range in price from $11 to $39. Other gift bags are also available for purchase.
Another seasonal favorite is the chocolate turtle, a layer of chocolate underneath a layer of nuts, piled with caramel and topped off with another sheet of chocolate. Chocolate-dipped fruits—like apricots, ginger and orange peel—and fresh-dipped strawberries are a couple more fan favorites, Ms. Madrid shared. For those overwhelmed by the variety, prepackaged trays and baskets are available for purchase featuring all of the company’s best sellers.
The candy shop manager and staff will be kept busy preparing a pile of these popular items as Valentine’s Day approaches. Store hours will lengthen next week so customers can grab a box of their favorites before the big day. A-Kline will remain open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, February 10 through Thursday, February 13. The shop will stay open on Valentine’s Day “until the last customer is satisfied,” Ms. Madrid assured.
In addition to their regular goodies, sugar free chocolate and custom-made confections for companies, are also available for purchase. A-Kline is located at 210 W. Second St. across from City Hall in the Claremont Village. Store hours are normally Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information or to preorder, contact A-Kline at (909) 626-6646 or visit them online at www.a-kline.com.