Thursday, April 3, 2014

See's Candies North Hills pre-grand-opening Blogger Event

Dallas has 'em; San Antonio has 'em; Houston has 'em... Heck, even Killeen has one! But Austin's first See's Candies officially opens tomorrow, April 4, 2014 at 10710 Research Boulevard, or 4815 W. Braker Lane, depending on which source you trust (it's the same place, regardless). Should you try to get there in the morning at 9:30 for the grand opening? Yes, of course! If you don't, should you go any time tomorrow and spin a prize wheel and enjoy a free sample? If you know me at all, you know the answer to that. If you don't make it tomorrow, should you go sometime, anyway? Just keep reading and decide for yourself.

The shiny new storefront, located conveniently next door to H-E-B, which would be dangerous if that were my regular grocery store.

Although the grand opening is tomorrow, See's had a soft open today, and then after closing hosted some bloggers (many of us either with babies or expecting!) to introduce us (or reacquaint us) with their product.

Having lived in Las Vegas, I came into contact with See's quite a bit. There are nearly a dozen stores in the area, conveniently located in malls as well as casinos. In Dallas, I only remember seeing the one at Stonebriar, but there are several others. I was excited to learn that a See's was coming to Austin!

Not just because the first thing that happened was that they shoved a square of dark chocolate chocolate chip candy into my hand, although that certainly helped. But, listen, this is not special treatment. Each time you visit See's, you can get one free sample of your choice. Don't be shy! And don't always try the same one. Live a little, folks.

If I might be frank (speaking now in a male register), I was a little disappointed with the Austin chocolate scene, especially because I found some really cool stores in Dallas and expected more here. Sure, you can buy Dallas-based Dude, Sweet chocolates at Whole Foods, and that's cool. We do have local artisan chocolates like The Chocolate-Makers Studio and Delysia available in my very neighborhood at Breed and Company. You can also get local chocolates at some coffee shops, and in cafes... but I was expecting at least a couple of good walk-in chocolate shops when I moved here.

For the record: Yes, I know about Big Top and Lammes. I like Big Top for what it is -- which is a fun, funky candy store and soda fountain -- but they don't have *great* chocolate. And Lammes, honestly, smells like my great-aunt's house and their stuff is overpriced and tastes generic to me. Sorry, Austin natives: eat some Crack in the Box and drink some One Night Stand Potion, and then try to tell me that anything in either of those stores compares to it.

But I digress.

All of that angst is abated for now, because...

Walls of chocolate. Not fast chocolate, mind you. Good, actual, no-added-preservative chocolate.

They have a huge variety of product, and we purchased a box of the Molasses Chips. I didn't try any of the things on this wall, but their sugar free products have consistently high ratings on their website. Personally, sugar alcohols do a number on this lady's digestive system (probably because I don't tend to see 1 as a serving, but as an appetizer), but if you're diabetic and have an insatiable hankering for dark almonds, it's good to know you can get some.  

James and I both drooled over the Toffee-ettes, but we decided to save those for later.

James, enjoying the constant samples and eyeing the product.

I really should stock up for the fall. According to Chantal Coady, owner of Rococo Chocolates in London, in her book "Real Chocolate": "Chocolate is... used as a homeopathic remedy, indicated for feelings of hostility, especially when mothers feel anger and frustration toward their offspring. The effect is to restore the nurturing mother side and to promote a general sense of well-being." So, basically, a box or two from this wall is my post-partum prescription, right?

Fun treats for teachers.

We were invited to try whatever we wanted, but I never got around to this one. That'll be my sample next time!

Similar to jelly beans, but with non-pareil coating instead of a hard sugar exterior. They were gummy. Very tempting.

Besty, a delightful woman apart from the fact that she kept insisting we try another piece.

Soft, buttery walnut squares.

I thought this was particularly lovely, and we learned later that the icing on the Easter eggs is hand-piped. Also, for this particular egg, the Rocky Road filling is hand packed into the mold. My guess is that it's too thick and unwieldy for a depositor. 

This. This was my favorite chocolate of the night. I didn't know what "firm brown sugar" meant, but now my mouth does. The filling is creamy, but the sugar is also softly (and pleasantly) granular. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend halving the piece, positioning it with the chocolate on the roof of your mouth, and then tongue the filling. That sounds weirdly sensual, I know, but a true Candyfreak will appreciate the effect garnered by this maneuver.

If you go to the grand opening tomorrow, you will receive one of these with your purchase. What struck me about this collection was the ingredients list on the back. You'll notice that there are five different items in this box.

Notice how few ingredients! And except for soy lecithin, you probably have every one of these things in your kitchen right now! Okay, you might not have cocoa butter in your kitchen, but it's possible that you have it in your bathroom or make-up bag.

There were regional and district managers in the house, as well as marketing and store management. We learned several things, many of which you can read on the See's website. However, I think it's incredible that the company goes through twelve million pounds of chocolate per year (a description of the Guittard tankers delivering chocolate two trucks at a time with a third waiting in the parking lot across the street is included in the delightful See's Famous Old Time Candies book each attendee received).

Natalie, discussing the history of the company.
After we'd gotten caught up on the See's Candies company, which will be 100 years old in seven years, we were given a fun and maddening challenge. In 1952, an "I Love Lucy" producer contacted a See's facility in Los Angeles to get some help with an upcoming Lucy episode. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance spent time there, learning how things were done, and the result ended up being the most popular episode of the show's entire run.

Our challenge? After a brief tutorial, see how quickly we could box a 12-piece assortment. We didn't have to wrap, but used the chocolate "cups" typical of candy assortments, picking up the chocolates with wax paper. We competed four at a time.

Coordination and manual dexterity is not my strong suit.

I started strong but finished with a pppft. One of the other ladies bested us.

Still, we all won. We got to take our box home.
While I definitely did not win the speed prize, I did do my box "right": 12 pieces, 3 of each of four varieties. James, on the other hand, just kept cramming candies into his box until everyone else had their boxes sealed and it was the next group's turn. See if you can tell which box is mine and which is James'.

After our contest, we were invited to request samples of whatever we wanted. Also, we were able to purchase candy, and indeed we did.

So many choices.

I tried this Apple Pie truffle, and it was good... but the white chocolate is so sweet without the bitter cocoa to balance it out, that it, believe it or not, pushed me over the limit and I was done with candy for the night. It was delicious, to be sure. The filling reminded me of the interior of a cake ball, as though it were a crumbled up apple pie piece with the crust and all. I will stick with the legit chocolate from now on, though.

We had a very fun, very tasty, very original night, and I can't recommend See's Candies highly enough. There's a funny bit in the book about how Godiva tries to capitalize on its European heritage (likely to justify the $3.85ish per truffle they charge), but points out that Godiva USA is actually owned by the Campbell Soup Company and that the chocolates are manufactured in Reading, Pennsylvania, by its bakery division, Pepperidge Farms*. See's was born and raised in California (via Canada, and it's really a providential story about how the Sees ended up migrating to the United States), and their candy is every bit as good as Godiva's, and is less than half the price.

A pound of Godiva assorted chocolates will run you approximately $55, whereas the same amount of See's Candies is $22.50 (up from $.50 during the Depression). So go get some! Enjoy a sample first. And if you want to swing by the Nuthaus to pick me up, I'll be glad to go, too.


*The book was published in 2005. In 2007, a Turkish company, Yildiz Holding, bought Godiva Chocolates. They're still made in good old Reading, PA.

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