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Business consummates love affair with chocolate

Sunday, March 17, 2002

By Kathleen Ganster

Kristen Sabol takes chocolate more seriously than most folks do.

For the love of chocolate: Kristen Sabol's Bethel Park home has a licensed kitchen for creating treats such as a Valentine's Day lollipop for her business, Confection Connection. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

She wrote her master's thesis in business about chocolate, and when she shopped for a house, it had to have a kitchen that could be licensed for her chocolate business, "The Confection Connection."

"Everything leads to my chocolate business," said Sabol, who calls herself a "chocolate specialist."

For many families, Easter means chocolate. According to the National Confectioners Association, Easter is the second top candy holiday, following Halloween. More than 60 million chocolate bunnies will be sold for the Easter holiday, and who knows how many chocolate eggs? The NCA says more than $13 billion worth of chocolate is sold in the United States a year. That is good news for Sabol.

She makes chocolate candies at her Bethel Park home-based business so that she can be readily available for her two sons, Alex, 10, and Nicholas, 8. Like many self-employed people, Sabol didn't originally plan to own her own business -- it just sort of evolved.

Recently, she did a presentation with Dr. Carole Kunkle-Miller, a psychologist from Mt. Lebanon. Among other things, the two discussed the benefits of eating chocolate.

"Chocolate does have serotonin in it, which can help you feel good," said Kunkle-Miller. "Many antidepression medicines have serotonin in them. We often crave certain foods that make us feel better. Of course, that doesn't mean you should eat 5 pounds of chocolate -- there are still the fat and sugar issues to consider."

But depriving yourself can have reverse effects, said the psychologist. "If you eat a piece of chocolate and feel fulfilled, you are not as likely to binge."

The chocolate maker majored in international business at Penn State University, graduating in 1988. During college, Sabol studied in Germany for a year, which helped her decide she wanted a career in international business or even with the National Security Agency.

Sabol uses a hammer to break up giant blocks of milk chocolate that will be molded into hearts and other enticing shapes. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

"I came back from Germany, and I was very pro-America. I thought I would like to be a spy," she said.

After graduation and marriage, Sabol lived in Washington, D.C., for about six years and worked in the corporate world for several years. "When my first son was born, I became a licensed day-care provider in order to stay at home with him," she said.

The family then moved to Potter County, and Sabol continued to dabble with candy-making, as she had done since high school. "My mom was a home economics teacher, and she made molded candies with a friend. She bought some molds and candy disks, and I started playing around with it. Basically, it was a good, cheap way to make presents. I kept making them all through college and when I started working."

Sabol's friends urged her to start selling her candy, but it wasn't a big deal to her. "I thought, 'Anybody can do this.' "

She calls those years her "early research." After finding herself in a new home and with two small boys, she thought she might like to make a go of a candy-making business. "I wanted something I could do around the boys' schedule, and I had a big kitchen. It was easier to be licensed there."

She attended a trade show for candy-makers in King of Prussia. "I was literally like a kid in a candy store. I learned so much and made a lot of business contacts."

Sabol found a supplier for a tempering machine, which allowed her to use "real chocolate," as she calls it, and started experimenting with mixing various types of chocolate to find her perfect blend.

"I always have a ready supply of guinea pigs willing to try my chocolates. I always say I feel sorry for the people creating new mayonnaise recipes," she said.

But just as Sabol was getting her business off the ground, she went through a divorce and moved back to Pittsburgh to be closer to her family. "One of the saddest days of my life was when I had to throw some of my chocolate away," she said as she downsized from her large farmhouse to an apartment.

Sabol stored her equipment in her grandmother's garage. After much discussion with her parents, she entered graduate school at Chatham College, majoring in business.

"When I went in, I thought I would be joining the corporate world after graduation. What I found while I was taking my classes is that in the back of my mind, I would relate everything back to my business. I'd think, 'Oh, I did that in my chocolate business' or 'I should have done that in my business.' "

Sabol started thinking she might make a go of it again. "My parents were really against it because they wanted the best for me. They thought I really needed the security of working for a large corporation," she said.

Then Sabol's son became ill, and she was worried about missing work at the day-care center where she was employed. "My father took him in for an X-ray because I was feeling guilty for missing work."

They discovered he had pneumonia. "I realized I had my priorities wrong. It just didn't feel right going into the corporate world."

She started addressing her business in her research projects at school and did a market analysis "to see if my business could really compete with the other businesses in the area. My professors were so supportive."

Sabol also began looking for a house with the business in mind. "I knew I needed a separate kitchen that could be licensed, so that is what I looked for," she said. In July, Sabol's home was licensed for business.

To make ends meet, Sabol also works with her father's electrical contracting company part time. She sells her candies through several sources, including small companies where employees can buy candies. The bulk of her business is special orders.

Bittersweet Champagne Truffles

8 ounces champagne
12 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (not baking chocolate)
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, cut and softened
1/4 cup marshmallow cream
1/4 to 1/2 cup cocoa for coating

Cook champagne over high heat for 10 minutes. Chill. Melt chocolate over low heat; set aside. In heavy saucepan, whisk yolks, cream and vanilla. Cook over low heat until thick. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Beat in butter, one piece at a time. Stir in marshmallow cream. Add champagne and chill, covered, until firm.

Form into balls, and roll or dust lightly with cocoa. Refrigerate, covered, for up to a week. Truffles taste best if removed from refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.

Kristen Sabol of "The Confection Connection"

To reach Kristen Sabol at the Confection Connection, contact 412-854-3233 or send e-mail to kristen@adelphia.net.

Kathleen Ganster is a free-lance writer and chocolate lover who lives in Hampton.

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