Rhonda “Roni-Sue” Kave, a native of southern New Jersey and owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, is not afraid to reinvent herself. As a lifelong hobbyist of creating chocolate candies, she always thought that opening her own place was something that would happen one day, but the right opportunity had to come along.
That happened in May 2007, right around the time she had just graduated from NYU with her degree in sociology. A space opened up in the historic Essex Street Market, and when she took her first look, she knew it was perfect.
At the time, she was working at the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, helping to coordinate their housing program. Rhonda knew the opportunity was too good to pass up, though, and began to make plans to open her own shop. Just a few months later, in October, the doors were open.
Rhonda’s background as a sociologist informs the philosophy behind her business. When she first opened her shop, she was dismayed to find that much of the high-quality chocolate available on the market came from places like the Ivory Coast, where child labor and human trafficking are major issues. She was determined to find a solution, and upon the advice of a friend, visited a cacao plantation in southern Belize. There she found cacao beans with an earthy, fruity flavor profile that was ideal for her candies, and together with three other partners, founded MOHO Chocolate Company, using cacao beans from the rainforest of the Moho River Valley.
In creating the concept, Rhonda drew upon her experience from classes she had taken at The New School and the Institute of Culinary Education, as well as an intensive course with the renowned master chocolatier Jean-Pierre Wybauw in the months leading up to the shop’s opening. And, for more than 20 years, she and a friend would make buttercrunch toffee for friends and family during the holiday season, which is now one of Rhonda’s signature items on the menu.
But her best seller is pig candy — chocolate-covered bacon, available in both dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Rhonda normally prefers dark chocolate but says that when it comes to pairing with bacon, it’s hard to beat milk chocolate.
And, no visit to Roni-Sue’s would be complete without taking home an assortment of her imaginative truffle candies. They’re filled with ganache in bold, assertive flavors like the Diablo, a blend of red chile confit, sweet red pepper, red chile jam, chile-infused tequila and Mexican cinnamon; and Old Fashioned (as in the cocktail), inspired by Mad Men. The most interesting ones are those filled with perzipan, a base similar to marzipan made from almonds and apricot kernels that’s reminiscent of the filling inside almond croissants. Compared to marzipan though, perzipan stands in the background and lets other flavors shine through, as is evident in her fruit-flavored truffles, like banana and fresh coconut.
Rhonda now uses their 60 percent chocolate exclusively for her ganache, chocolate-covered pretzels, and toffees. It’s also used to make a mean hot chocolate — it was recently named the city’s best hot chocolate by the Village Voice — available at their new second location on the Lower East Side. She eventually hopes to expand production in Belize to make couverture, which is needed to make the smooth, glossy coating for the shells of her truffle candies, and to transition all her products (some of which currently use Callebaut and Valrhona) to her single-origin chocolate.
Where does Rhonda draw her inspiration for new candies? Markets. One of her favorite places to go is Kalustyan’s, which has played host to the likes of Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse and Angelo Sosa, and is arguably Manhattan’s best spice shop.
Her most recent discovery there? Watermelon powder. Don’t be surprised if it makes its way into a perzipan truffle candy this summer.
Interested in sitting in on a demo with Roni-Sue’s Chocolates? How about the chance to ask about her truffle-making technique? Don’t miss her at next month’s Save Room for Dessert event at the Brooklyn Brewery! Tickets are only $5.