The secret behind , 7801 Clayton Rd., is employees' craftsmanship, loyalty, and respect and appreciation for one another's strengths and talents—not to mention the delicious and addictive chocolate that draws Clayton residents inside.
In a nutshell, the store's history has led to this: A group of multigenerational chocolatiers is working to provide St. Louis with some of the highest-quality artisan chocolate in the Midwest.
The owners of Lake Forest are Dan Abel Sr. and Dan Abel Jr., who bought the store from Maynard "Bud" Kolbrener in December 2009. Kolbrener opened the store in 2004 to create jobs for former employees in need.
The Abel family has been in the chocolate business for decades. It owns two other chocolate companies, which is how the friendship between Abel Sr. and Kolbrener came about. They met for coffee once a week just to chat, and the conversation inevitably turned to the ebb and flow of the chocolate business—the demands of the Christmas and Easter seasons, or the quiet time of summer.
One of the things that makes Lake Forest different from many chocolatiers is that its employees hand-pour fillings into starch molds to make confections.
First, a frame with approximately 2 inches of corn starch is leveled. Then, ceramic molds of different shapes are imprinted into the starch. The chocolate or candy is then hand-poured into the molds—a true craft that requires a talented, steady hand.
From there, confections are dried. The starch is brushed off, and the treats are sent to workers on the assembly line.
I stopped by and got to witness the making of blackberry cremes. The blackberry filling is then hand-dipped in tempered chocolate, emblazoned with a chocolate "B" (for blackberry) by a second worker and packaged at the end by a third.
"Once dipped back into chocolate, the blackberry becomes soft and lush once again for the creamy center," Abel Jr. said. The fillings are made with natural ingredients and fresh fruit, which is cooked down.
Some of the employees have perfected their craft over decades. The artisan hand-crafted chocolates and candies created at Lake Forest are the real story.
Dan Abel Jr. was kind enough to pass on this recipe that he said a home cook can master:
Whipped Cream Truffle
- 2 pounds of Lake Forest dark chocolate
- 15 ounces of 40 percent whipping cream
- Melt chocolate to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit in a double boiler
- Place melted chocolate and whipping cream into mixer
- Mix until whipped
- Spoon out into cups