A Taste of Essex Street Market: Roni-Sue's Chocolates
A historic culinary destination on the Lower East Side, Essex Street Market is home to more than 20 independent merchants. This series features the characters that make up the bustling corner of Delancey and Essex Street.
It's hard to miss the neon Roni-Sue sign at Essex Street Market.
It's even harder to miss the orderly rows of delectable candies and their irresistible, chocolate aroma.
Rhonda Kave's affinity for chocolate began as a hobby. For over 25 years, she has artfully made homemade truffles, lollipops, and chocolate and caramel candies for friends and family.
But in October 2007, she decided to make it all official with the opening of Roni-Sue's Chocolates at Essex Street Market. Since then, she's become a well-known chocolatier. This past October, she opened another shop on Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side.
In addition to serving as Chief Chocolate Officer, Rhonda actively collaborates with many community organizations including City Harvest (above photo, Rhonda, right). It's these community interactions that she says allow her to create unique expressions for each of her candies.
We spoke with Rhonda about her love for chocolate and where she draws inspiration for her unique treats.
Owner name: Rhonda Kave
Business name: Roni-Sue's Chocolates
Market start: October 29, 2007
Product sold: Chocolates! 20 different kinds of truffles, buttercrunch toffee, chocolate-covered bacon, popcorn, lollipops, and more!
Why did you start Roni-Sue's Chocolates in Essex Street Market?
I had read about markets, including Essex Street Market (ESM), but had never been to the space. We all know it’s the best-kept secret in New York.
One day, I went down to look and was just completely charmed by it. It's the kind of place I like to find when I’m traveling in Europe: a small, local market. I was so excited to find something like that in New York City. I spotted a little place in the back with the windows papered over that was used for storage. I had been making chocolate for friends and family for years and was looking for a location to start my chocolate business. I thought, "I can make a really cute little place out of this!" I liked that it was in the Lower East Side and in a community of merchants. Plus, being co-located with other merchants means having the opportunity to collaborate. That's huge.
I started my business in the back of Pain d’avignon’s space on October 29, 2007. No question about it, ESM is a business-friendly environment and part of the mission is to help promote small businesses. It definitely helped me get started!
What is your favorite memory at the market?
I have a lot of favorite memories at the market, but I remember the collaborations with particular fondness. In 2008, I was coming up with new chocolate ideas and was talking to another merchant about savory sweets. He suggested bacon and I said, “No no no, I don’t want do that.” But we tried it anyway and everyone was a big fan, including me. It seemed very counterintuitive but was actually very tasty. We thought we would do it for a month or so, but it’s been a top-seller ever since.
Now I make four different bacon products. Next weekend, we’re doing the “Bacon and Beer Classic” at Citi Field which will have 8000 attendees enjoying bacon and beer treats. Also, our caramel corn with bacon bits (with bacon from Heritage meats!) has been on Redbook’s holiday gift list for the last two years.
What is Roni-Sue's specialty?
Our “Pig Candy," the chocolate-covered bacon, has become our specialty. Jeffrey from Jeffrey Meats, actually came up with the name. I was leaning toward Pig Tails because of the way it curls, but then he was at a BBQ over the weekend and had bacon with maple syrup that was called Pig Candy. He came running in saying “I’ve got it! I’ve got your name! Pig Candy.”
When we decided to make it for sale, I bought the bacon right in the market at Jeffrey’s Meats. Then I took it over to Shopsin’s and asked them to fry it for me. Then I dipped it in chocolate. So it was a group effort.
We debuted Pig Candy at a chocolate show in 2008 and it became a big hit. So, we went with it!
What is your favorite time of the week at the market and why?
The weekend, when it’s busiest. Food tours come in and I get to schmooze with people; that’s a lot of fun. A lot of tourists and people come in who can’t make it on weekdays.
Do you source any products from within the market?
When we were doing all our production at the market, we would often pick up brown sugar or whatever we needed right in the market. Now we make everything over at my Forsyth Street location, so we source everything differently. However, we do still get bacon from Heritage Meats and we use espresso beans from Porto Rico Importing in one of our caramel corns. Luca and Bosco has also bought some buttercrunch from us to put in their ice cream.
Do you have any “fun facts” about your business?
My mom owned a women’s clothing store, and when I was born she decided to add a little girl’s shop called the Roni-Sue shop. When my dad died, I went down, found the old sign in the attic, and had it framed and hung it in my apartment.
As I was preparing to open the chocolate shop, I struggled with what to call it and then it hit me. It was one of those “aha!” moments. I looked up at the sign on the wall and knew Roni-Sue’s should be the name. We recreated the sign in neon for the market. Now the sign will move to my new shop on Forsyth Street.