“Imagine a little moon of chocolate, simple and smooth, even virtuous. A moon slowly melting onto your tongue, and every muscle instinctively melting with it. Imagine feeling so sated nothing could disappoint you ever again. That was the promise of a Half-Moon Buttercream Dream.” (Chocolate Chocolate, Chapter 4)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers and chocolate go together. Jane Austen had it for breakfast. Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Pepys touted its health benefits and restorative powers, and Roald Dahl always had a stash of chocolate bars on hand for dinner guests.
For award winning authors Frances Park and Ginger Park, chocolate is their American dream — a hard won livelihood, an unforeseen impetus for their writing careers, and the subject of their divinely delicious new memoir, Chocolate Chocolate: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could (Thomas Dunne/St.Martin’s Press, 2011).
Most of us would agree that starting any business is a risky, difficult proposition at best. When Frances and Ginger opened Chocolate Chocolate (D.C.’s most popular gourmet sweet shop) back in 1984, they were in their 20’s, had no previous business experience, and were the only minority-owned, independent shop in the city. A shady contractor had left their shop in shambles, they struggled mightily to build a clientele, and at one point they even lost their lease — but their strong sisterly bond, fierce commitment to family, and steely work ethic enabled them to transform a small lobby space on the corner of a big office building into a nationally renowned, locally beloved chocolate boutique.
Reading Chocolate Chocolate is sheer delight — it’s part entrepreneurial chronicle, part family history, a lively cocoa-dusted dramedy with a poignant center. The sisters were motivated to open their shop because of their father’s sudden death (he died of a stroke in a Waikiki hotel en route to Korea). Consumed with grief, they clung to each other to feel whole again. Opening the shop was one way to make sure they would always stay together: lose a father, reach for a dream.
Most everyone thought they were crazy to go into business. But they’d been raised to believe dreams were possible.
Our parents, who had survived harsh times in Korea under Japanese rule and the Korean War, were proof. Dad, reared in a one-room mud hut with a family of eight, was blessed with a passport out of poverty: a gift for language. He worked his way to Harvard University and the World Bank until one day he bought the house of his dreams in suburban Virginia where he planted his gardens and built a life. Meanwhile, Mom, with an English all her own, staked her claim as boss of the Park home and, despite a childhood of being served meals by maids, learned to cook Korean feasts the neighbors could only dream of. That our parents came to America with nothing more than the clothes on their backs made us believe we too could do anything we set our minds to.
They instinctively felt they had their father’s blessing — their love for chocolate dated back to their childhood Easy-Bake Oven days, when their Dad would often bring back Swiss chocolate from his business trips. The aroma of their chocolate cakes baking always put him in a good mood. Though he didn’t live long enough to realize all his dreams, those he did achieve forever remain a source of hope and inspiration.
What do I love most about this memoir, besides the fact that it’s drenched in evocative, sensually detailed descriptions of truffles, bonbons, turtles and bark (each chapter is named after a specific type of chocolate)? I loved reading about the ups and downs of running a chocolate business and the sisters’ adventures behind the candy counter, especially when they began to carve out writing careers by renting an IBM Selectric typewriter to record little vignettes about their most interesting customers.
Regular visitors included Our Girl Friday, Kahlua Lady, Gypsy Bess, Bill-About-Town, the Bear — all fascinating people with different chocolate habits and life stories. Many customers eventually became dear friends, cherishing the chat as much as the chocolate. On some days, Mom, their silent partner, graced the premises with her own brand of charm and hospitality. The sisters have always considered their shop an extension of their home, and they’d hoped, when starting their business, to not only build a life, but to make friends and find a place in the community. Nothing like chocolate to set the stage for magical encounters, sometimes even romantic ones! *fans self* Darren and Mr. X for Frances, Ginger’s Rafael and Skip (whom she married).♥
It was also fun to learn about how some of the Park Sisters’ children’s books came about — a National Geographic Editor bought some dark chocolate orange peel one day, then ended up commissioning a book from them (Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong). Sweet!
Chocolate Chocolate, easily the best memoir I’ve read this year, beautifully illustrates how a passion for chocolate can help forge a life and smooth out its rough patches. Chocolate defines people, brings them together, comforts and seduces. Devoted siblings, soulmates, writing and business partners, the Park Sisters have written a wholly engaging, heartfelt book that will elicit laughter, a few tears, and an intense craving for the deepest, darkest chocolate chocolate. They’ve proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that writers and chocolate really do go together. ☺
CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could
by Frances Park and Ginger Park
published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2011
Autobiography/Memoir, 288 pp.
* Includes Ginger’s recipe for House Truffles
♥ Find out more about the Park Sisters’ books for children and adults at their official website.
♥ All the chocolates shown in this post are available at Chocolate Chocolate (1130 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C.). You can also order toll free by phone (888-466-2190) or online (they ship nationwide).
♥ Check out this excerpt from Chocolate Chocolate at the publisher’s website.
♥ Email Frances and Ginger for a copy of their most excellent Reading Group Guide: francesandginger (at) parksisters (dot) com.
♥ ♥ ♥ Frances and Ginger will be visiting alphabet soup soon to tell us more about their writing and to share insights gleaned from 25+ years as chocolatiers.
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.