Chocolate, peanut butter and puppies are a pretty safe bet on the appeal meter.
The combination seems to be working for Tim Gearhart, a Charlottesville, Va., upscale chocolatier who wanted to create a fun product with a social conscience. Enter peanut butter pups.
The little dog heads are made with premium milk chocolate and Reginalds Virginia artisan peanut butter, with dark chocolate nose and eyes and toasted almond ears. Gearharts Fine Chocolates donates 5 percent of the pups’ sales to Companions for Heroes, an organization that finds rescue pets as companion animals to wounded veterans. Gearhart is a veteran of the first Gulf War.
At 18, Gearhart joined the Marines as a cook. He says it was there that he learned the attention to detail and discipline needed to become a chocolate maker. “This is a repetitive and monotonous job,” he says of chocolate making. “It’s not rocket science, but it takes a certain personality.”
He learned more about the science of cooking in the pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, as a hotel pastry chef in Charlottesville, Va., and cooking at a gourmet luxury dude ranch in Wyoming and at a 1,000-year-old castle in England.
When he opened his chocolate shop, Gearhart was making up to 600 chocolates a day near the winter holidays. Last Christmas, he and his staff made 9,000 pieces a day. He says they created a quarter million pieces of chocolate in two months.
Gearharts makes the kind of fine chocolates that use teas, spices and chiles with French and Belgian chocolates. “We use classical techniques with modern flavor profiles,” says Gearhart.
The father of a 4-year-old boy, Gearhart says he had an epiphany one day as he was driving home from work. “I realized we didn’t have anything child friendly,” he says. “We’re known as a sophisticated place, but we thought we should have something whimsical and fun.”
At the same time, he wanted to use the opportunity to do something for veterans, an important issue to him. So he hit the piping bag one day and played around with shapes until he came up with the head of a dog. He had no particular type of dog in mind but it started to look more and more like a dachshund.
Gearharts made its first donation – $1,500 – to Companions for Heroes this summer. “Vets love the idea and have thanked me,” says Gearhart.