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South Dakota couple reflects on chocolate business

By GRACE RAMEYFebruary 18, 2019
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Hal Holdahl smooths out a tray of homemade caramel the Watertown Confectionery made Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The caramel will cool overnight and then be cut into squares and dipped in milk or dark chocolate. (Grace Ramey/The Public Opinion via AP)
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Hal Holdahl smooths out a tray of homemade caramel the Watertown Confectionery made Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The caramel will cool overnight and then be cut into squares and dipped in milk or dark chocolate. (Grace Ramey/The Public Opinion via AP)

WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) — Truffles, caramels, peanut butter cups, turtles, toffee and fudge — the Watertown Confectionery makes it all. Located Watertown, the Confectionery is owned and operated by Mike and Vickie Marotz.

The Marotzes began their journey into making chocolates while living in Red Wing, Minnesota. Their friends, Cyndy and Doug Smith, had previously owned a confectionery in Chicago and reopened the business in the basement of their Minnesota home under the name Red Wing Confectionery. During the busy seasons, the Marotzes would help the Smiths and instantly fell in love with it.

“The minute I put my hand in the warm chocolate, I was sunk,” Vickie Marotz told the Watertown Public Opinion.

Burned out on each of their previous careers, the couple moved back to Watertown in 2005 and launched their own business in the basement of their home, making chocolates and roasting coffee. In 2010, they opened their downtown shop and expanded their services to homemade wine.

The Confectionery sells dozens of different handmade, hand-dipped chocolate candies, including dark chocolate caramels with sea salt, milk and dark chocolate mint truffles, chocolate-covered peanut butter cups, milk and dark chocolate turtles and much more.

SD Cowpies, which are made of crushed English toffee and coconut dipped in chocolate, are one of their best sellers.

“Anything with South Dakota in (the title) sells pretty well,” Vickie Marotz said.

The Moratzes will often create and sell new candies by listening to what the customers want, such as the chocolate-covered Oreos, potato chips and s’mores.

“We do listen to the customers,” Vickie Marotz said. “We can’t do it all, but we try our best.”

While Valentine’s Day is not the Watertown Confectionery’s busiest holiday, Mike and Vickie Marotz offer several Valentine’s-related chocolates, including milk chocolate rose suckers, assorted chocolate boxes, dark chocolate “Love Potions,” raspberry truffles, heart-shaped chocolate suckers and more.

“We have such an array of chocolates, I’m never bored because there’s always something to do,” Vickie Marotz said.

Each day at the Confectionery, the Marotzes work through various steps to create their chocolate candies, including making the chocolates and their fillings, hand-dipping the treats and decorating and wrapping the chocolates.

First thing each morning and a few times throughout the day, they add blocks of milk and dark chocolate to separate temperers to melt down the chocolate for the coating to their candies. These tempering machines warm up the chocolate to specific temperatures, mixing the chocolate until alpha crystals form, which keep the cocoa butter mixed in and ensure the chocolate comes out smooth, crisp and glossy. Then, one by one, the shop’s homemade chocolate candy cores — such as caramel, English toffee, coffee beans, coconut balls and more — are individually dipped into the tempered chocolate for the finishing touches. The treats then sit on a tray to cool overnight and get decorated and wrapped the next day before being sold in the store.

“There’s no shortcuts when it comes to chocolate,” Vickie Marotz said. “You have to follow all the steps.”

Every piece of chocolate the confectionery sells is handmade and hand-dipped, so no two chocolates are the same, making each piece unique.

“At Watertown Confectionery, we make candy the old fashioned way,” the shop’s assorted chocolate box insert reads, “handling with care, taking the time necessary, using only the freshest ingredients and no preservatives ... Because our products are handmade and hand dipped you will find each and every piece delectably different.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” added Confectionery employee HaVilah “Hal” Holdahl, who has worked at the shop for about a year and a half, learning the secrets of the trade.

Each of the Confectionery workers have their favorite treats to make. Mike Marotz said he enjoys making the milk chocolate-dipped toffee, while his wife enjoys the java white delight truffles. Holdahl agreed, saying truffles are her favorite to make because “it’s challenging and it involved a bit of creativity.”

Vickie Marotz said there has never been a day where they left work and regretted making this career change.

“Everything about this is a blessing to us,” she said. “We’re happy with this chosen profession. It’s fulfilling. We make people happy.”

“Chocolate can seem so trivial but it brings a lot of joy to a lot of people,” Holdahl added.

The Marotzes said they enjoy seeing customers’ faces light up when they come through the door.

“It is pretty special to see the smiles that we create,” Mike Marotz said.

“Everyone has a smile on their faces and, if they are crabby when they come in, they always leave with a smile,” Vickie Marotz added. “How can you not be happy when there’s chocolate?”

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Information from: Watertown Public Opinion, http://www.thepublicopinion.com

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