JoMart Chocolates

Michael Rogak

You are a third-generation confectioner and chocolate maker. Tell us about your family’s history of making candy and chocolate.

Back in the early 20th century, my grandfather had a chocolate factory in Brooklyn. As my father described it, it was a big factory that never made any money. He wasn’t the greatest businessman, but he did it for multiple decades, and all good things come to an end. After World War II, my father came back and didn’t know what to do with himself, so he decided he and his first cousin Joe would open a chocolate factory. The were looking to make a higher-quality product. The mission statement, if there was such a thing back then, was that people hadn’t really been celebrating events for a number of years because of the war. And now was a time to focus on the positive and about celebrating life.

As far as quality went, he felt there’s no limit to how cheap you can make something. But if you go the other way to try to make something better than other people, then they have to compete with you. When my father opened up, there were five other chocolate shops in Brooklyn within two blocks of him. It was kind of a hub at the time, and people thought he was crazy. His early-days hours were 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. A couple of years in, his partner got married, and his wife didn’t want him working those long hours, so he left the business. Shortly thereafter, my grandfather joined him at the business because he had closed up his factory. Some of my father’s first fixtures came from my grandfather’s factory.

Fast forward to the early ’70s and I’m finishing college and becoming a teacher. I got a job, I got married. I lost my teaching job and decided to go back to working with my father, which I had been doing on and off since I was nine years old. That’s the way it is in a family business.

My dad and I worked together for over 30 years. I made the transition from working for him to working with him to ultimately taking over.

People who grow up in a family business end up having a different set of life experiences. You see what your parents do for work. You have a different work ethic and mindset. I never took a business class in my life. Did I think I could run a business successfully? Nah. It still comes as a big surprise to me. It blows my mind that I’m here doing it 50 years later.

What is JoMart known for? What are your specialties or best-sellers?

We have a lot of specialties. A big thing that we’ve developed a reputation for is the marshmallow we make. If we’re making a chocolate-covered marshmallow, we make the marshmallow. If we’re making chocolate-covered caramels, we make the caramel. Same goes for the coconut, the nougat, the buttercrunch, etc. We’re scratch cooking everything here, and the key is that it’s fresh. In a world of mass merchandise, people don’t normally experience something fresh.

To me, customer service is not something optional. It’s mandatory. It’s all about freshness. Also, we try to stay as current as we can. During COVID, the fad was hot cocoa bombs. My eldest daughter called and said, “Dad, I saw this on TikTok. You have to make cocoa bombs.” The next day my younger daughter called and said, “Dad, I saw this on Instagram. You have to make these!” And then I started getting phone calls. The day I got 10 phone calls about hot cocoa bombs I said, “All right, let’s do it.” And I will say, emotionally and even a little bit financially, that first season of hot cocoa bombs took us out of the shadow of COVID, and we were helping people celebrate again. It was a very cool experience. We were able to help people celebrate life, which goes back to my father’s original mission.

Tell us about the process of chocolate-making.  

To make a product called chocolate, it has to have three ingredients: cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, which both come from the cocoa bean, and sugar. Period. Full stop. That’s what chocolate is. If it’s milk chocolate, you’re adding milk powder to it. If it’s white chocolate, you’re taking out the chocolate liquor.

Our process goes like this: We work with a company in Belgium that we get all of our blends from. We let the company deal with the agricultural stuff, which lets me do what I do best. For my business, although we’re a chocolate company, chocolate is a costar. If you come into my store because you heard about our chocolate-covered marshmallows, there’s chocolate and there’s marshmallows. I don’t want to overwhelm my caramel, my marshmallows or anything else. I want costars — I don’t want stars that are hogging the stage.

I do some of my own beans for some special projects. I work with a distillery here in Brooklyn called Widow Jane. They make a bourbon aged in a maple syrup cask. They asked us to try to make a chocolate that emulates that. So I got an oak barrel from them, and I took cocoa nibs, which is the product that comes out of the cocoa bean, and aged it for a month or so. Then we start processing. In essence, you’re taking the nibs, putting them in a machine called a melanger or a grinder, and for up to 72 hours this machine is just mixing and mixing. The purpose is to give you a European experience of a very, very smooth chocolate.

Do you experiment with recipes or stick with classics that have worked for decades?

The recipes for the caramels, marshmallows, etc. all started with my grandfather and my father. In the early days, my father couldn’t always afford the best ingredients. It was just a reality. As time went on and the company got a little bit more successful, we were able to start upgrading the ingredients.

For example, I’m sure you’ve had a maraschino cherry.  One of my customers asked if I’ve ever researched what a maraschino cherry is. So I took a look. And yes, it starts off with a cherry, but then they bleach it and do all kinds of processing to it. At the time, I was buying a four-gallon case of maraschino cherries for around $35. I found this company out in Washington that made a really good cherry for $40 per gallon. And I thought, I’m either going to put up or shut up, so I took in a little bit to try. I decided to not raise the price. I’ll take the hit, because we make over 100 items. You pay a little bit more for one and a little bit less for another — it all averages out. Little by little, my customers said, “Are you doing something different with the cherries?” and I’d say, “Does it taste different?” and they would say, “Oh yes, they’re amazing!” So I started to look at things that I can change just a little bit.

What makes chocolate such a good gift for any holiday? What kinds of gift packages/boxes do you offer?

Good chocolate is an affordable luxury. Because we’ve been doing it for so long, we’ve become a family tradition for many people. We try to make something consistently good. I try to cover all price ranges. Our gift packages start with a four-piece box of bonbons and go up to a 10-pound platter of chocolates. Whatever people want, we’ll do for them. We can customize anything. Chocolate is a product that you can do so much with.

Everyone I know in the chocolate business has the same experiences: We’re building relationships. I’ve witnessed someone come in and they’re getting engaged. The next thing you know, we’re doing party favors for their child’s first birthday party. Miraculously, the next thing you know, I’m doing wedding favors for that little kid. This company has already touched five generations, which blows my mind to think about. It’s beyond special — it’s a privilege. It gets me very emotional, because that kind of experience bypasses money. Money is a boring subject. You made more, you made less, who cares? But if you can bring joy to people, that’s a big deal.

Tell us about your private chocolate workshops.

I give an overview of what chocolate is and what chocolate isn’t, and then I show them the process hands-on. We’ll show them hand-dipping, tempering, shell molding, making bonbons, making truffles, and they get to spend two and a half hours with me and my colleague, who’s been with me here for over 40 years. Whatever they make, they take home. The comment we usually get is that they never had any idea of how much work goes into making chocolate.

You like to say the key to world peace is chocolate. Why?

When we travel, we have some common language words, and one of the words that is always understood is chocolate. When I say I make chocolate, it always brings a smile to people’s faces. It’s almost like this universal language of food. It just makes people smile. I try not to take myself too seriously, but I try to take what I do as seriously as I can. We are making a difference.

JoMart Chocolates has so many 5-star reviews. What do you think makes you such a community favorite?

I think we’re consistent. I think we continue to make a good product. We continue to rarely disappoint people. We muck up occasionally, I won’t say that we don’t, but we try to be as fair and honorable as possible. I don’t like to nickel and dime my customers. I’m going to bust my butt to work within your budget. I’m going to try as hard as I can to make the best product I can make. I’m not going to cut quality.

In the last year and a half, the cost of chocolate is up over 50 percent. The better the quality, the more it’s going to go up. I’m not going to cut my quality. If this is the thing that ultimately puts me out of business, so be it. I’m going to stick to my guns, we’re going to do everything properly, and you’re going to get the service you’re entitled to. You’ll get the best product I can give you, and if I can make it better, tell me what I can do.

What are your goals for the future of JoMart Chocolates?

I don’t have a plan B. I don’t know how long this body will keep doing what I want it to do. So far, so good. As long as I can do my work and keep everyone working, we’re going to keep going for as long as I can.

I like the idea of being a small business. It is a challenge. But I like to tell people that we’re small by choice. We’ve been making small batches since before that was a fad. I don’t sell to mass merchandisers because I need to have control over my product. I’ve had the luxury of doing it my way. And that’s what I want to keep doing as long as I can.

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