Spring is officially on the way and Easter Sunday won’t be far behind, falling this year on April 12. For countless kids and sweet-toothed grownups that means chocolate bunnies.
The traditional Christian celebration marking Christ’s Resurrection has expanded for many into a joyful festival of spring. And even devout churchgoers are glad to welcome sweet bunnies and colored eggs along with lilies. daffodils, and pansies as bright symbols of renewed life, all part of the Easter spirit.
For many Islanders and visitors, Easter has long included a passionate pilgrimage, often to church but even more predictably to Chilmark Chocolates. There, chocolate bunnies of all sizes as well as chocolate lambs, ducklings, and eggs filled with peanut butter packed the shelves. Dedicated chocolate makers in the back room turned out tray after tray, and there was always more than enough for all who crowded into the tiny up-Island shop.
When Chilmark Chocolates owners Mary Beth Grady and Allison Burger announced it would close at the end of 2019, my first thought was about those bunnies, big and small, dark, milk, and white chocolate. No doubt many other Easter candy aficionados felt the same. Yes, we would miss the truffles, the mints, the chocolate-dipped apricots, and blueberries and more. But it was the loss of the bunnies that was the worst of all. What to do when the Easter season comes?
Of course foil-wrapped rabbits, pre-packaged chocolate eggs, perky Peeps, and peanutty Reese’s confections would appear on supermarket and drugstore shelves. But they just would not be the same as fresh, handmade, chocolate Easter candy.
Thankfully, Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium has come to the rescue, and with all the worries abroad in today’s pre-spring world, at least a shortage of chocolate rabbits is not one of them. Even during the dim days of Lent and in times of trouble, the thought of Easter brings a breath of hope … and the prospect of Easter candy a burst of joy.
Dona Kruszewski, co-owner of the popular Oak Bluffs seasonal sweet spot, promises a full inventory of Easter candy, all homemade according to the shop’s traditional recipes. She and her partner/co-owner Jeannette Michaud create all the Easter candy treats in the kitchen at Ben and Bill’s Falmouth branch, since the Vineyard store will not open until late April.
But chocolate devotees and family Easter bunnies in search of the perfect rabbit, richest coconut, or fudge cream eggs, and even holiday lollipops need not worry. All these yummy products may be ordered online (or by phone, for those who prefer sweet talk) and will be ready for pick up at the Oak Bluffs location in plenty of time for Easter festivities.
Among the tempting panorama of sweet offerings on the website are chocolate rabbits in endless shapes and sizes, chocolate roosters, lambs, butterflies, cream eggs topped with flower decorations, and even chocolate dipped Peeps!
There are traditional and Jelly Belly jelly beans, and small foil-wrapped dark or milk chocolate eggs for a final festive touch. Kruszewski and Michaud offer pretty colored Easter baskets in many sizes, pre-assembled or custom packed with your choice of treats, wrapped in cellophane and topped with a bow. Kid-favorite novelties like gummy worms and candy necklaces are available too.
Ben and Bill’s boasts plenty of Vineyard fans as a favorite Circuit Ave. summer ice cream and chocolate haven for many seasons. Its homemade ice cream has won repeated Best of the Vineyard awards. Begun by Vineyard twin brothers Ben and Bill Coggins more than 30 years ago, the first Ben and Bill’s was in Bar Harbor, Maine. They soon added locations in Falmouth and Oak Bluffs. A Northampton shop is now closed, but the other three are thriving to the delight of ice cream and chocolate lovers. The twins came with impeccable candy making experience having worked for the well-known Hilliard’s Chocolates. They even brought to their own business some of Hilliard’s recipes, still used today.
Michaud, who began at the Bar Harbor branch, moved to the Falmouth location and became manager. When the store was seeking help, Kruszewski’s mother, a Falmouth resident, urged her daughter to apply. Kruszewski, a Johnson and Wales grad then working in management for Au Bon Pain in Boston, headed to the Cape in 1998 and joined the Falmouth staff. She became Oak Bluffs shop manager in 2001.
When the brothers decided to sell the Oak Bluffs location, Kruszewski and Michaud took the leap, purchasing it in 2005. Both continue to work off-season at the year-round Falmouth store. The two women make virtually all the delectable offerings themselves in the shop kitchens, from assorted chocolates and fudge to much sought-after ice cream and gelato. Candy recipes start with high-quality Peter’s Chocolate. At least 95 percent of the merchandise is store-made.
Even after owning the popular summer shop for 15 years and being on Ben and Bill’s staff even longer, Kruszewski says she still loves her work. Along with serving happy customers and selling products that bring a smile, she delights in the opportunity to be inventive, dreaming up new flavors and combinations.
“It’s being creative, it’s just fun, and chocolate is really delicious,” Kruszewski laughed happily. “The day I quit is the day I don’t like chocolate, and I don’t see that happening.”
Order pickup at Ben and Bill’s, 20 A Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs, Saturday, April 4, 10 am to 3 pm, Friday, April 10, 4 pm to 8 pm, and Saturday, April 11, 10 am to 3 pm. For info and orders, visit benandbillsmv.com or call 508-548-7878.