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Chocolate the heart of Woodstock shop

Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Lathan Goumas – lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
Sara Ervin picks out confections from a display case for a customer at Ethereal Confections in Woodstock.
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(Lathan Goumas – lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
Sara Ervin packages confections at Ethereal Confections in Woodstock
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(Lathan Goumas – lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
Mary Ervin makes vanilla syrup at Ethereal Confections in Woodstock.
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(Lathan Goumas – lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
Danielle Peterson sorts through cocoa beans at Ethereal Confections before they are roasted.
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(Lathan Goumas – lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
Mary Ervin pours chocolate syrup into jars at Ethereal Confections in Woodstock.

WOODSTOCK – “There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate.”

Two Woodstock chocolatiers have turned the famous saying by author Linda Grayson into a business model with the recent opening of Ethereal Confections, a chocolate shop with a side of, well, just about anything.

Mary and Sara Ervin are sisters-in-law, but you would think they’ve known each other since birth. The two, along with Sara’s husband Michael Ervin, opened the Woodstock Square shop July 5 with a menu that provides much more than a simple piece of chocolate.

Along with the 30 flavors of truffles and homemade bean-roasted chocolate, patrons have their choice of more than half-a-dozen desserts ranging from lemon meringue pie to a chocolate hazelnut macaroon torte. Working with organic ingredients and buying from local businesses whenever possible, the shop also offers a variety of small plates like artisan cheeses from Wisconsin and small-batch roasted peanuts from Chicago, among other dishes.

Add a full coffee bar, beer, wine, hard cider and craft cocktails, Ethereal Confections can satisfy virtually any craving.

But, according to the Ervins, chocolate has always been the backbone of the business.

“That’s really the heart of our business. We’re a chocolate business,” Sara said. “We just sort of added a coffee bar on and then got carried away.”

Before moving into the new space at 113 S. Benton St., Ethereal Confections was in a 400-square-foot shop on Main Street in Woodstock. The shop sold only chocolates and focused largely on their wholesale business. Moving into the new shop gave the Ervins the space to use their creativity to put together a store truly unique to McHenry County.

“There’s nowhere else in Woodstock where you can go and get a glass of wine and a dessert – without sitting down for dinner – or get a cocktail of the caliber we make,” Mary said. “After you get out of a movie or the opera house, maybe you still want to continue your evening. You want to have a nice drink and a dessert. So that’s how that sort of expanded.”

Like most chocolatiers, Sara and Mary buy most of their chocolate from other sellers and melt it down to come up with their own recipes. But with the opening of the new store, the two decided to begin roasting their own chocolate directly from the cocoa bean, creating flavors that no other chocolate shop can make.

Ethereal Confections imports cocoa beans from Belize, the Dominican Republic and Madagascar, toying with roasting times and flavor combinations to create a variety of different tastes.

“We have chocolate that’s grown near banana plantations that has a banana flavor to it,” Sara said. “It’s pretty cool because you can source it from one farm or one country.”

“Depending on how you roast it, you can bring our subtleties in the flavors,” Mary said. “You have a big range of what you can do. You can bring out a fruitiness or a nuttiness and a deeper chocolate flavor.”

Ethereal Confections found a niche not yet filled in McHenry County by combining a chocolate bar, coffee bar, and wine bar, and the Ervins hope to pull residents away from the favorite chains and encourage them to shop locally.

“We live in the community,” Sara said. “Any money spent here goes back to the community because this is where we shop and live. And it’s just a more unique experience too. It’s a little cozier.”

Eventually the Ervins would like to sell chocolate made entirely in-house, and they hope to grow their business by adding other boutique locations, starting with Chicago.

The store has been very busy since the July 5 opening, they said, but the most successful part of the business has been on the wholesale side. Headed up mostly by Michael, who handles the sales side of the business, Ethereal Confections sells chocolates in 200 shops across the country, and it even sells in stores in Canada and Mexico.

The trio not only own the shop, but they live together as well. Working and living together, at least for now, has only brought the group closer together.

“One of our employees does call us codependent,” Sara said. “Last week Mary was working in the kitchen and I was out front and we’re like, ‘we mis each other!’”

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