As we observe the strategies that local organizations adopted to cope with the COVID crisis, we are frequently reminded of the adage, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.” Though the economic downturn associated with the pandemic proved a death knell to some businesses and a major setback to many others, a few managed to find opportunity in the changes in how consumers do their shopping. When customers can’t feel safe visiting your shop in person, you need to bring your products to them – via Internet, mail and phone order. And that approach can significantly expand the geography of your market.
So it was for Krause’s Chocolates, whose flagship store in the Hudson Valley has been located in Saugerties since 1972. The business quickly outgrew its first building, and the Krause family bought up a couple of adjoining structures over the next several years. Now the “mothership,” as third-generation chocolatier Karl Krause calls the storefront at 41 South Partition Street, has acquired about 400 additional square feet of floor space, thanks to the construction of a two-story, eight-by-24-foot bumpout on the street side of the main building.
The ground floor of the new addition will be used to store fresh products awaiting pickup for shipping, Krause explains, and the second floor for storage of boxes, packaging and molds. While the shop went through a difficult period of sidewalk-pickup-only retail sales in 2020, the shipping end of the business experienced a major surge of consumer interest. People stuck in their homes, bored and isolated, discovered the joys of self-indulgence in hand-dipped artisan chocolates. “Part of COVID was people mail-ordering like crazy,” says Krause. “Sales bounded way back during 2021…After the uptick, the shipping area was way too small.”
A tour of the factory floor behind the shop makes it clear that the entire elaborate operation is carried out in tight quarters, within the myriad rooms, porches and hallways of two former residences whose floors still show patches of 1930s-vintage linoleum in spots. Krause is a DIY sort of guy himself, and much of the interior construction – counters, storage racks, the cooling tunnel for finished chocolates – is his own handiwork. He’s even doing most of the construction on the new extension of the Partition Street façade. “It’s just me and the electrician and the siding guy,” he says. “I hope to have it finished by the end of the year.”
This old-school approach to work is apparent throughout the business, right down to the authentic flavors of the chocolates. Karl’s grandfather Alfred Krause came to America in 1929 and founded the business in then-rural Wyandanch, Long Island with his wife Hanna. Alfred had grown up a penniless orphan in Germany, apprenticed at candymaking in the authentic Swiss style and gone to work as a chef on cruise ships before emigrating to New York. “He bought some farmland near an airport and put letters on the roof that said, ‘Hanna Krause Candy.’ The pilots would use it as a landmark,” Karl relates.
Word got around, and before long there was another store in Forest Hills, then four more in New Jersey as a second generation grew up to expand the business. The move upstate happened after Alfred’s son Manfred and his wife Jean began summering in a cabin in the Catskills. It was Jean’s idea to open the Saugerties factory and store, says Karl, and the Old-World recipes and techniques for making superior chocolates and other candies were passed down to him and his brother Tom as they grew up.
In 1986 Tom Krause went off to Albany to start his own branch of the family business, called Krause’s Homemade Candy, which now has a second shop in Colonie – and its own website, which can be confusing to those seeking to acquire Krause products by mail order. “You have to go to Krause’s Chocolates if you want the type that I make here. I kept the traditional recipes,” says Karl. Brother Tom’s approach was to specialize in what is called in the trade “clean label” candymaking, Karl explains. “My brother makes really good candy. He uses all natural and organic ingredients, but that can change the flavor.”
Another difference between the two brothers’ business models is that the Albany-based spinoff uses a lot more in the way of mechanized mass production. The bustling warren of factory rooms behind the Saugerties shop is full of highly trained live humans meticulously hand-dipping chocolates the old-fashioned way. Even the machinery used is vintage: There’s a big copper cream-beater that dates back to 1907 and a gorgeous copper hanging cauldron, pieced together and hammered by hand; Karl can’t even guess how old it is. The caramel-cutter and cream-press are cranked by hand. The hard candies are rolled out on a massive steel table manufactured by Millen, in the Kingston waterfront factory building that today houses the Ole Savannah restaurant.
It’s as astounding to watch these expert chocolatiers at work as it is difficult to stay out of their way. They use hand-forged custom metal implements to pick up the various precut candy cores, dip them individually into small vats of molten light or dark chocolate and then drop them directly into their little paper cups. A deft twist at the end adds the signature drizzle of chocolate on top that helps identify what kind of sweet it is. (At Krause’s Chocolates, there’s no Forrest Gumpish guessing, or having to bite into each one to see what it is: Purchasers receive a printed key that explains exactly what each type of chocolate morsel looks like. Even the paper cups are color-coded.) When enough are accumulated and cooled, off they go to the assembly line to fill boxed assortments – again, all by hand – or down to the display cabinets in the shop.
The payoff for all this careful, labor-intensive artisanship is obvious as soon as you bite into a Krause’s confection: This is the real thing, freshly made, at prices far below European imports. They make two thousand pounds of chocolate per week – more when holidays are upcoming and there’s a big demand for molded specialties. For Thanksgiving, you can get cornucopias, Pilgrims, seven different sizes and shapes of turkeys and even a chocolate drumstick.
Keeping chocolate that fresh-tasting when so much of your product needs to be shipped out by mail, UPS and FedEx is a big challenge. Time and temperature are crucial variables in delivering chocolate in peak condition. In summer, the packaging needs to include freezer packs, especially when shipping to the Southwest. Karl also advises customers not to store their chocolates anywhere with “strong smells” nearby, such as tobacco or potpourri, and to leave the cellophane wrap on until you’re ready to begin partaking, to preserve the chocolate “essence.”
No wonder Krause’s Chocolates needs more room to stretch out. You can help make a little more space in the shop by stopping in to buy some at 41 South Partition Street in Saugerties between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, or until 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The selection is enormous, the staff cheerful and accommodating. They can assemble any assortment you want, on the spot.
To place an order (and now would be a really good time for winter holiday entertaining or gifts, as demand is ramping up), call (845) 246-8377 or visit www.krauseschocolates.com. There are also Krause’s Chocolates satellite shops at 2 Church Street in New Paltz and 6423 Montgomery Street in Rhinebeck.