Stepping inside the Peel and Pour Factory Warehouse is like walking into Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The owner rushes over, apron smeared with chocolate and flour, a sample in one hand and a handshake waiting to happen in the other.
"Everything I own smells like chocolate," said Millie Sweesy. "I guess that's why I love it in here."
And, after a bite into some English toffee, you understand the 35-year-old chocolatier's love of candy--and her enthusiasm.
"When I started to develop the chocolate-covered wine and champagne bottles," said Sweesy, "I had to convince loan officers that the product would move by the case-load. The idea sounded too outrageous to them, as if people don't absolutely love the decadence of chocolate and champagne."
A little more than a year later, Sweesy spends 12-hour days dipping bottles into the various shades of chocolate and creating the sweets to fill gift baskets and boxes of candy. It is an arduous schedule born of a labor of love.
For 13 years, the energetic Sweesy has worked as baker, chocolatier and entrepreneur in the promotion of her first business endeavor, Tomfoolery Serious Chocolate Inc., on Balboa Peninsula.
"I walked in through the door of that shop and knew one day I would own it," Sweesy said. A few years later, she bought out the original owners and moved from baker to candy maker in one major leap. It was at this shop that she developed a taste for chocolate and champagne.
"Some nights I'd work until midnight making candies or baking," she said. "Usually friends would drop by with a bottle of wine or champagne. Of course, candy has to be sampled and wine must be drunk. That's when the idea of slathering a bottle of champagne withchocolate was born. We tried names like 'Rip and Sip,' but 'Peel and Pour' stuck."
The bottles of Mumms, Moet or nonalcoholic drinks are sealed in a food-safe shrink wrap that Sweesy coats in a thick, glossy layer of milk, dark or white chocolate. After the chocolate sets, the bottles are covered in another layer of shrink wrap then boxed and packaged. Sweesy has three workers assisting her at the small warehouse.
The staff works together to package several cases of the Peel and Pour bottles each day. Sweesy takes care of the shipping, sales and promotions of the product line herself--and still has time for a little baking.
Anyone who has eaten dessert at Rothschild's in Corona del Mar, Amelia's on the Island in Balboa and Newport Beach's Villa Nova has sampled Sweesy's tortes, cheese or mousse cakes. She also bakes cakes for weddings and other special occasions. "But people should know that I don't do traditional tiered cakes," she added. "If someone wants something extraordinary, they will want chocolate fudge tortes."
For shoppers still searching for holiday gifts, nothing fits like a basket of gourmet chocolates and cookies. Again, in creating the gourmet gift baskets or boxes of candies, Sweesy has a taste for the uncommon. Workers pack caramel turtles made with almonds and dark chocolate or cashews with white chocolate, dark chocolate bricks filled with a whipped peanut butter, salty pretzels dipped in white chocolate, truffles and thick English toffee. A blend of different chocolates fills each gift box.
While Peel and Pour is available at Bullock's, Macy's and a host of specialty stores from La Jolla to Manhattan Beach to ski resorts in Utah, the best way to buy these chocolates is at the factory warehouse. The prices are right, the product is fresh and the samples are, in the words of Willie Wonka, "satisfying and delicious."