In a time before big chain supermarkets, cities were sprinkled with small producers from butchers to bakers and yes, even candlestick makers. On the way home from work or school, one might stop in to a variety of specialty producers for the evening’s dinner ingredients. For many residents of New York’s West Village, an every-now-and-then indulgence along the way was Li-Lac Chocolates. The oldest chocolate house in Manhattan, it was originally opened in 1923 by Greek chocolatier George Demetrious in a small space on Christopher Street. Passersby would catch glimpses of marble tabletops, glittering copper kettles, and the delicately detailed chocolates through the windows. Truly quaint.
So how does a quaint chocolate shop survive a nearly 100-year history in ever-changing New York City? Demetrious was a man steeped in tradition, shunning automation and trend. And it’s just that dedication to the old way of doing things that the company credits for its longevity. Not only are many of the recipes the same as they were in the 20s, but some of the marble tables and large copper pieces from the original location are still proudly part of chocolate production, holding court to tempering and making the company’s famous fudge, respectively.
Of course, some things have changed. The company is in its fifth iteration, now jointly operated by Anthony Cirone (himself a frequent customer of the Christopher Street shop before its closure in 2005), Anwar Khoder (a chocolatier for the shop since 1989), and Christopher Taylor (the finance guru of the lot—hey, someone has to read the spreadsheets). Storefronts have expanded to five across New York City, including a Brooklyn chocolate factory where people can still peer at the Willy Wonka-esque activity through oversize windows. But one thing is assured never to change—Li-Lac’s commitment to old-school chocolate making. Cirone remarks, “People tell us all the time about how Li-Lac was always part of their life in the Village.” Now, more people can be part of the Li-Lac tradition, dating back to a time when small makers were the only makers.