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Queens Chocolate Shop Sweet on Social Media

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | February 12, 2013 7:33am

QUEENS — With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Aigner Chocolates is filled with heart-shaped boxes full of homemade chocolates — as it has been for decades at this time of year.

But Chris Aigner, 29, who worked in finance before joining the family chocolate business, said many things have changed since the Forest Hills sweets shop first opened in 1930.

These days, for example, it’s hard for small businesses to compete with big chocolate producers. And like many others, his shop has come to rely on Yelp and social media, as well as good old fashioned word of mouth.

"We have more than 1,500 fans on Facebook," Aigner, the third generation in the chocolatier family, said with pride.

The key to Aigner's success, he said, is tradition combined with his belief that “our quality and presentation are noticeably different.”

Aigner’s grandfather, John, who learned the art of making chocolates in Austria, came to the U.S. in the 1950s with his wife and son, Peter. He got a job at the shop, which at that time belonged to a German chocolatier named Krause.

“A lot of recipes came from Austria,” he said. “They [his grandfather and father] perfected these recipes over decades.”

Krause had opened his store on the corner of 71st Road in 1930, and named it after himself. John Aigner bought the store in 1960, but the name was not changed until Chris Aigner joined the business in 2009, and decided it was "time to put the family name up there.”

Chris's father, Peter, who was raised in an apartment above the store, initially went to work in the travel industry. While working for Pan Am, he ended up in Copenhagen, where he met his future wife, Pia. After they came to the U.S., they bought another chocolate store in Ridgewood, and later opened a shop in Manhasset, Long Island.

But when John Aigner retired, the family sold the other stores and focused on the Forest Hills location, which continues to produce everything from scratch. Some of the machines that are used to make about 20,000 pounds of chocolates a year are 60 years old, Chris Aigner said.

“We have a candy kitchen in the back, we do enrobing downstairs and then the chocolate comes back to a cooling room over here,” Aigner said. “It’s quite a process — I tell people that to make one truffle is two to three days' work.”

For Valentine's Day the shop has prepared a huge variety of products — from chocolate pops for $1.75 to some 50 kinds of boxes, the biggest weighing 5 pounds (150 pieces) and costing $200.

Numerous shelves at the Metropolitan Avenue chocolatier are stocked with both familiar and unique chocolate treats: peanut butter cups, cashew bark, tangerine crème, almond clusters and marzipan truffles among them.

“Valentine’s Day is the only season when we have more male customers than females,” said Chris Aigner. “Usually women are about 70 percent of our customers.”

The store has been building its clientele for decades, he said, and now has customers who come from as far away as Long Island and Connecticut.

“This is the best store in the neighborhood,” said Albert Loria, 64, a carpenter, who visits the store every couple of weeks from Glendale, Queens.

He said he got to know its products at its Ridgewood location about 30 years ago.

“Cherry and raspberry jellies are my favorite… And it must be dark chocolate,” he said. “I like the orange peel chocolate too.”

Aigner Chocolates is located at 103-02 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills.