To visit Manna Hancock's "office," you open a door next a huge kettle of freshly made caramel corn, keep walking past a mini-confab of stuffed bunnies and kittens, pass by glass showcases of 60 different types of chocolates, make a left at the soda fountain, offering a dozen varieties of homemade ice cream, and walk into a compact kitchen, where dreams are concocted.
"Over there, we have all of the special things we have for Easter: sour bunnies, speckled chocolate malted eggs, and our special Easter sprinkles," said Hancock. "I'm a sucker for cute things. I think they're just adorable."
But it's all about the chocolate for Hancock. She's the so-called "chocolatier" at Goody's Soda Fountain and Candy Store--the Boise sweet shop that has swung its doors open in the North End's Hyde Park neighborhood for 17 years. And while she regularly joins more than a dozen Goody's co-workers serving homemade ice cream, Hancock and a colleague spend most of their days crafting dozens of types of chocolates. With Easter right around the corner, Hancock took a few spare moments to talk about the sweetest gig in town.
You have a rather unique first name.
Manna is biblical; it's the bread from heaven that God provided the Israelites. It would be a strange name if it didn't have a meaning behind it.
How long have you worked at Goody's?
This year will be my seventh summer. When I was away at college, I would come back and work each summer but I've been here full-time for almost two years now.
What did you study in college?
I have a degree in music. I'm a pianist.
Do you play professionally?
I work with a cellist. He's pursuing his master's degree. And I teach a music appreciation class at the Aaron Academy.
Is it ideal for you to balance your two passions?
I've worked at Goody's for several years and I never would have thought about making chocolate before two years ago. But when I said "yes," I discovered that I absolutely love it.
(Nearby, two toddlers--barely old enough to take their first steps--pierced the air with alternating screeches and laughs.)
You must see a lot of little ones who are coming here for the first time.
One of my favorite moments on the job is when I hand a kid their first ice cream cone and their eyes just light up. And they get that look: "Oh my goodness, that's for me?" Oh, I love that. The best thing about my job is my co-workers, but a close second is the happiness from kids.
How many types of chocolates do you make?
I have to count sometimes; dozens of types of chocolates, hundreds of individual chocolates. I tried to estimate how many I made one day and it was close to 1,000.
And the best sellers?
Turtles are really popular. Let's see, there are fruit cremes, chocolate-dipped cherries and all of our truffles. My favorite is the amaretto truffle. But we have coconut, coffee bean, Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Kahlua and cream and dark chocolate silk truffles. Lately, our chocolate-dipped Oreos have become big sellers. And they're really fun, because we add special holiday decorations.
And are there basic chocolate flavors?
You can do all different types of flavorings--and there are endless possibilities--but the standards are milk chocolate, mint chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate, with varying degrees of bitterness.
Is milk chocolate the favorite?
You would think, but I definitely see a rise in the popularity of dark chocolate. People say, "Oh, it's good for my health." Hopefully, it's true.
Do you sample?
Of course. Especially the new products. We have virtually nothing written down. It's an art, really. We don't have recipes. That's why I have to taste everything.
I'm presuming that you've seen the famous I Love Lucy episode with Lucy working in the candy store.
[Big laugh] People say to me all the time, "Oh, you make chocolates, like Lucy."
What are your newer products?
Pretzels with peanut butter dipped in chocolate, those have become very popular. Shortbread dipped in chocolate. We're starting to make homemade peanut brittle and divinity.
What do you prefer when you're giving something as a gift?
I love to give something called Mint Cindy: It's a melt-away mint chocolate center covered in dark chocolate.
I'm sure a lot of us fantasize about owning a candy store, but there has to be a business recipe for success.
Atmosphere is huge. Hiring the right crew is important. Our owner--Brett Palmateer--really understands that investing is important and he invests in us. He grew up in this business and he passes all of his knowledge on to us.
So what's the secret of making perfect chocolates?
It's in the temperer.
(Hancock led BW to an inner sanctum, where she has a series large spinning silver kettles, one each for milk, mint, white and dark chocolate.)
The temperer is heated by a series of light bulbs, which keep the temperature even and the spinning creates a flow of chocolate for the dipping.
Could you ruin the chocolate in a heartbeat?
Oh, yeah. Chocolate is very finicky and the cooling is the most important part. That determines how it's going to look. It took me a long time to get the hang of it. Everything has to be at a stable temperature. You don't want the chocolate to be cloudy or have any blooms--little white spots. It needs to have a nice sheen.
You must see a lot of people between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Actually, our summer season starts in April. That's when we have to have more workers. (The current roster includes 18 names.)
Is your business recession-proof?
It's been pretty steady year-round, and that's pretty new. You can truly notice the difference. You really get a good sense for that when you're working behind the counter.