First there was Christine's Toffee, a Madison-based candy company whose goods made it into swag bags at last year's Emmys. Christine's made its way into my heart, too, with its bacon toffee. Soon, though perhaps not soon enough for eager eaters, the business will expand with the opening of the Chocolaterian Café. It will fill the spaces of the former Anchor Bank at 2000 Atwood Ave. and Schenk-Huegel at 2005 Winnebago St.
Chef-owner Leanne Cordisco, 45, the woman behind Christine's Toffee, is opening Chocolaterian with Kimberly Vrubley, 40. In September, it will start fulfilling wholesale holiday orders; Cordisco hopes to be open for retail and dining by late September or October.
Chocolaterian will feature the existing Christine's Toffee line and serve as a place for experimentation: cream puffs, macaroons, cannolis, chocolate-covered shortbread and more are planned, with an emphasis on chocolate desserts using toffees and caramels from Christine's. The idea is to develop a menu that always has a few specials in the lineup.
There will be tables for people to have coffee, espresso or wine and dine in a casual setting, as well as windows into the kitchen so they can watch the sweets come to life.
"We want to be kind of a one-stop-shop for desserts, sweets, chocolate and wine," Cordisco says. She's fashioning Chocolaterian in the spirit of patisseries she's visited on her travels, while keeping the building true to its roots.
"The Schenk-Huegel space is this wonderful hidden little gem on Madison's east side. It hasn't changed in the last 40 years, and that just made it more special and interesting to me," Cordisco says.
As construction wraps up, the original cabinets will become booths, and many of the existing features, such as lighting, will remain intact. "Time forgot this shop, and we're trying to bring it back to life without changing it too much," she says.
Both Cordisco and Vrubley are engineers by training, and they've been friends for 15 years; both found their way to food. Cordisco has wanted to be in the restaurant business since she caught the bug at age 15 bussing at a pancake house. She says her training as an engineer translates well to the candy world: "My background makes me a very precise cook or chef, which is perfect for candy making."
Vrubley bakes, but as a former quality engineer, she brings her own set of skills. "Whereas I get a million crazy ideas, she takes them and makes them repeatable," Cordisco says.
One thing that won't be repeated: truffles. Since they're already made just down the street by Gail Ambrosius, the two have a verbal agreement that Chocolaterian will sell Ambrosius' instead.
"It's important to me that I act as a complementary business in the neighborhood," Cordisco says.