The smell of chocolate teases the nostrils as Jim Heyl opens the door to the basement of the quaint brick cottage. Clad in a long white apron, he leads the way into a low-ceilinged basement packed with antique machines churning and mixing chocolate.
"Welcome to my chocolate factory," says Heyl, owner of Moore's Candies, who grew up in that same Baltimore cottage where confections are churned out for the company's retail store in Bel Air and for commercial customers.
"Even adults come here and feel like kids in a candy store. ... Living in this house with a chocolate factory in the basement was phenomenal. It was mine and every other child's dream."
Growing up in the factory was only the first of the dreams he'd realize.
Since he purchased Moore's Candies almost 25 years ago, the chocolate purveyor opened a retail store, built an inventory of more than 400 specialty items, has annual sales of more than 40,000 pounds of chocolate and receives national recognition for his efforts.
He gives guided tours of the Baltimore factory on Pinewood Avenue, but many people aren't aware it exists, even though they've tasted his treats. Heyl wanted to share his chocolate concoctions with the public, so he resolved to open a retail store. He began scouting locations in 2003.
"Harford County had a market for a chocolate store," says Heyl, 58. "I was looking for a place where people could come and bring their children to enjoy my creations, and Bel Air seemed to be the perfect fit."
Heyl opened the shop in Bel Air and hired his son-in-law Raymond Poe, 33, of Parkville to manage the store. Almost immediately he established a clientele, including Lucy Panzer of Jarrettsville.
"It wasn't the chocolate that initially made me stop at the store; I had never tasted it before," says Panzer. "It was the things I'd heard about it that intrigued me."
During the 1970s, Panzer's co-worker received a box of the chocolates. Her reaction sent Panzer on a mission.
"I thought the man who gave them to her had given her a million dollars, " says Panzer. "She got so excited, it made me curious and I started looking for Moore's, not realizing it was in the basement of a house."
It wasn't until two decades later that she spotted a Moore's Candies sign as she drove down Bond Street in Bel Air. Upon entering the shop, she realized she'd discovered the maker of the box of prized chocolates.
"I tasted the candy for the first time that day, and it was worth the wait. It was absolutely fantastic," says Panzer.
Since then Panzer has toured the factory and learned its early history.
On the tour, Heyl explains that the factory dates back to 1919 when Albert Moore opened Madeline Moore Candies - named for his daughter - in Baltimore. Around that time, another man, also named Albert Moore, opened Moore's Edgemont Candies.
Heyl's parents worked for Madeline Moore Candies until 1962, when they purchased both of the candy businesses.
"My parents didn't change the name to Heyl's Candies because the Moore name had a successful run of 40 years and had already established a top-notch reputation," says Heyl.
As a teenager, Heyl spent time in the factory. After attending Essex Community College and later the Johns Hopkins University, he made his way back to the factory. His parents retired in 1981, and at that point he purchased the business, which has catered to commercial customers.
"I'm the oldest of four kids, and I'm a gourmet cook," says Heyl. "The idea of spending my life creating chocolate masterpieces and keeping the business in the family really appealed to me."
`It's a science'
Despite his years of on-the-job-training, Heyl attended an intense, three-week course at Retail Confectioners International in Glenville, Ill.
"Most people don't realize what goes into making chocolate," says Heyl. "It's a science. You have to be trained."
Employee Betty Kuessner of Baltimore vouched for that. When she started working at the factory four years ago, she was likened to Lucille Ball in the famous candy factory episode of I Love Lucy.
"When I first started, the chocolate came at me so fast I'd scream," says Kuessner with a wide smile. "I know how Lucy felt having the chocolate coming down the conveyor belt so quickly. Jim would say, `Oh no! I've got a Lucy here.'"
After two months, Kuessner caught on. Now she's making chocolate-covered cherries and is one of Heyl's two professional tasters.
"Tasting Jim's new chocolates makes my job unique," says Kuessner. "What better job could anyone have than tasting chocolates?"
Heyl said his affinity for creating new flavors helped build his reputation and even landed him a stint with McCormick & Co. creating new flavors.
"At first they sent me flavors to test," says Heyl. "Then, as I built this business, they begin to trust my reputation and had me create the new flavors for them."
Additionally, he received accolades from the Food Network and the Los Angeles Times. Both dubbed him one of America's best chocolate makers.