By PARIS WOLFE
The world has changed because of the global pandemic. As people strive to stay connected while practicing social distancing, they’re buying and sharing more chocolate than ever. And Sweet Designs, Ines Rehner’s 26-year-old Lakewood business, is benefiting. Locals are stopping by the shop for curbside pick-up and people nationwide are beating a path to her web portal. In fact, the company’s sales are way up and Rehner can barely keep up with the need for storage and shipping space.
That’s because Sweet Designs’ European-style gourmet chocolates – truffles, bark, caramels, and other indulgences – are so rich and delicious, and they make a sweet way to stay connected. Rehner created assortment boxes that contain message bars, a great gift with greetings for the holidays and special occasions or with the simple message “Thinking of You,” which has been popular throughout the pandemic.
Rehner, founder and Master Chocolatier, uses only the best chocolate from Italy, France, Belgium, and the United States. “I make my own blend,” she explains. “I put a lot of thought into it. I think about whether the flavors go well together. What kind of taste this leaves for minutes after I’m done eating the chocolate is something I think about. I blend different combinations to create that experience.”
“Ingredients have to be of the highest quality,” she says, referring to truffle fillings, homemade marshmallows, nuts and more. “My mother always told me your meal will taste as good as the ingredients you put in it. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. I will not cut corners.”
If you liked her product five years ago, you’ll probably like it better today. “Our chocolate was always good,” she says. “It’s improved after 26 years in business. I’m always challenging myself. I’m my own competitor. I have to make the product better tomorrow than it was today.”
In fact, that sense of competition is how she got started.
First, though, rewind. Rehner was born in the former Yugoslavia.“I knew that, even in a Communist country, I wanted to create something. It always gave me joy to make and share,” she says. “I would bake at home, and if I shared it with neighbors and friends it would elevate that feeling of joy. I could not achieve that dream in Yugoslavia. Dreams like this in Communist countries are suppressed.”
In 1989 when she was 24, Rehner immigrated to the United States. “Once I came to America, I had such an appreciation for opportunity that this country gives to people. I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” she says. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a chocolatier, but my first job was at a retail shop selling chocolates in New York City.”
“I thought if I learn to make chocolates myself, I can make my own. This connected my love for entrepreneurship with my business choice,” she remembers. “It was hard because even though I have a college degree, I hadn’t had training in chocolate making.”
Ever competitive, she knew she could make better chocolate than that offered at the place she first worked in New York City. “It all came out of my own desire to create chocolate that people will remember,” she says. “When we make chocolates, people get excited.”
The bestsellers are her artisan truffles. In general, a truffle is chocolate-covered, rich ganache. Sweet Designs sells 25 different flavors, some of them like peppermint are only seasonal. Other flavors include chocolate, hazelnut, crème de menthe, champagne and raspberry. The star is the Mozart truffle, a marzipan center wrapped in a layer of rich and creamy hazelnut, that’s coated in dark chocolate and decorated with a treble clef. The results are sublime.
Second in popularity are her caramels, which come in sea salt and even a seasonal Green Apple variety. That is followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter cups and more. The products, which number more than 100, plus 35 certified organic and vegan products, are available at sweetdesigns.com.
Sweet Designs ships its products locally and across the country and goes to great lengths to ensure its chocolates arrive safely; this includes checking weather forecasts and using ice packs. You can order online at sweetdesigns.com or you can pick up your favorite treat (curbside only) at Sweet Designs at 16100 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood. A complimentary sample will be provided for walk-up customers.
Gift or treat yourself to delicious chocolates from Sweet Designs of Lakewood this season
By PARIS WOLFE