WEST LOOP — The Daily Chicago Chocolate Smell Map, which aims to track exactly where Chicagoans can smell the Blommer Chocolate Factory each day, started as a joke between friends.
Map creator Ian Petchenik, a 29-year-old Edgewater resident, said an out-of-town friend mentioned that she noticed the chocolate smell that permeates the air along the Chicago River. Then they joked about making a map that tracked the chocolate smell that originates at the West Loop chocolate factory located at 600 W. Kinzie St.
"I just made a quick map, and people liked it. So she said, 'You should do this every day,'" said Petchenik, a freelance aviation writer and educational technologist at DePaul University. "After the first day it picked up speed, and I thought, 'People are really into this, I guess we'll keep doing it.'"
While the online Google map is helpful to tourists seeking out the sweet smell wafting through Downtown Chicago — or the West Loop, West Town or River North, depending on the day — the map is not scientific, Petchenik said. He uses wind direction, wind speed, historical reports, and now, crowdsourced smell reports, to determine the probable smell location.
"People can tweet and say, 'I got off the bus at State and Lake and I can smell the chocolate,'" he said.
Petchenik said Saturday that he is surprised to see how quickly word of the Chicago Chocolate Smell Map, launched Oct. 1, has spread online. About a half a dozen people submitted smell reports each day last week, he said.
"More than three people looking at this to me is amazing," he said. "I think a lot of people got into it because it's something that they experience every day, but no one has ever said where [exactly] you can smell the chocolate."
Petchenik, an avid traveler who grew up near O'Hare International Airport, said that he's always been a big fan of maps and the unique way they can communicate data. While this is his first foray into smell maps, he's made other maps online, including one that covers the best places to watch the Chicago Marathon.
The family-owned Blommer Chocolate Factory opened in 1939, and today, with the addition of three other U.S. factories, the company is the largest cocoa processor and ingredient chocolate supplier in North America.
Petchenik said he hasn't yet received feedback from anyone representing the Blommer Chocolate Factory, but he hopes the company likes his "fun little project."
"It's just where you can smell the chocolate. It's as simple as that," he said.
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