UPPER WEST SIDE — A make-your-own chocolate shop where patrons can dream up everything from simple bars to chocolate-covered lollipops opened its flagship store on West 79th Street Thursday.
Voilà, the drop-in shop between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, features stations throughout the space where customers with a sweet tooth can create their own confections, including chocolate truffles and traditional French mendiants. The finished product is then packaged for gift-giving, or can be eaten on the spot.
While initial guidance is offered on the process by staff, customers then work independently on their treats while socializing, explained founder Peter Moustakerski.
The company sources its chocolate from the high-end Guittard brand and offers mix-ins and toppings like dried papaya and mango, hazelnuts, pistachios and even Pop Rocks, he added.
The chocolate-making process can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and costs between $35 and $79 per person, depending on what patrons decide to make, with truffles the most expensive option.
"We exist so that people can do chocolatiering all the time," Moustakerski said. "It's really magical when you get to do it."
Moustakerski came up the idea for Voilà when he visited the DIY craft chain Make Meaning, where he had an "aha moment" and decided to apply the same concept to chocolate making. He's spent the past three years turning his concept into reality.
"Even the most daring and innovate people take you to an existing kitchen where the experience is industrial," he said of the existing chocolate-making market.
Voilà seeks to do the opposite, creating a relaxing atmosphere where people don't have to stand up or attend a formal class in order to try their hand at chocolate making, he said.
In today's technology-driven culture, people are seeking "something more involved and hands-on" in their "search for meaning and self-expression," Moustakerski explained.
The quality of the chocolate customers get to work is superior to what they might have at home or in a more "dumbed-down" class, said Elain Boxer, head of marketing for Voilà.
Under the oversight of Christophe Toury — previously pastry chef at the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental hotels in New York — the chocolate is tempered, an important process that protects its quality. Tempering involves modifying the heat of the liquid chocolate so that it doesn't retain imperfections like sugar streaks when it cools, Boxer explained.
"Anybody can melt chocolate. Tempered chocolate is what creates confections," she said.
Part of Voilà's mission is to help the public better understand the chocolate-making process, as well as economic and sustainability issues surrounding chocolate. The company hopes that as consumers become more interested in the complicated growing and trade systems that bring them their coffee, the same will happen with chocolate.
"We want to light sparks of knowledge," Moustakerski said.
At the same time, if customers simply want to decompress and chow down, that's OK too.
"It's however far you want to take it," he added.
Voilà encourages reservations, but accommodates walk-ins and is open every day from 10 a.m. and until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. It stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and on Saturdays until 11 p.m.