Since October 2012, the storefront at 2409 N. Western Ave. has been a production kitchen for pediatrician-turned-chocolatier Heather Johnston, not a walk-in retail shop. It wasn't totally off-limits. Customers could come in and buy chocolates if she and her staff were there — except they kept irregular hours.
Janet Fuller joins DNAinfo Radio to tell us all about this sweet story:
That's no longer the case. Johnston has turned the front of the kitchen into a retail shop, and opened to the public on Wednesday. A grand opening is set for May 31.
The shop is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m -4 p.m. Saturdays.
For the May 31 opening, she'll debut her seasonal caramel, a perky, pink grapefruit flavor. Beer-and-honey-roasted-peanut turtles, made with a stout from Revolution Brewing, are on tap for Father's Day.
Shortly after, she will roll out chocolate bars in two varieties: milk chocolate with toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate with crispy flakes and pretzels. Fruit jellies, in flavors like black currant, are in the testing phase.
Johnston also is in the process of pursuing kosher certification for her kitchen from the Chicago Rabbinical Council. She expects that to happen this summer.
Johnston, an Edgewater resident, hadn't planned on opening a retail shop when she started the business (indeed named after the Wonka character) in late 2011.
Then again, she hadn't planned on getting — and beating — non-Hodgkin lymphoma in college, either, or leaving her medical career to make gold-dusted chocolates.
A New York Times story on her specialty gelt for Hanukkah that ran in November 2012, a month after she opened her kitchen, gave her business a giant push. The gelt is now available year-round; her goal for this year is to sell "upwards of 20,000 boxes."
In addition to churning out her own treats, the Veruca Chocolates kitchen is home base to a few other small businesses: Flour Cake and Pastry, a wedding cake specialist, and Dough Dough Bird Baking Co., which makes gingerbread.
Up until March, Johnston had still been putting in a few hours a week at Lurie Children's Hospital.
She's a full-time chocolatier now and "deeply loving it," she said. "My kids think I'm cool."