Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 14
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

SWEET SELECTION: “We make all our chocolate fresh and make it right here. And we have the flexibility to customize for our customers.” Marco Cucchi, owner of Thomas Sweet Chocolates & Ice Cream, is shown with a king-size chocolate Easter rabbit, one of many delicious Easter confections at the popular chocolate shop.

Tasty Homemade Chocolate Easter Favorites Are Ready at Thomas Sweet Chocolate Shop

The windows at the Thomas Sweet Chocolate Shop beckon. Filled with a delightful Easter display, they entice the customer to enter. Inside, the aroma of freshly made chocolate and the selection of chocolate rabbits, lambs, chicks, eggs, and baskets proves irresistible.

It is true — nobody doesn’t like Thomas Sweet! With all those delectable choices — whether chocolate or ice cream — Thomas Sweet is truly sweet tooth heaven. And where better to find all the wonderful Easter treats?

“I’m transported back to my childhood and the excitement surrounding the arrival of the Easter bunny and basket,” says a long-time customer.

“We do transcend time here,” agrees owner Marco Cucchi. “It’s a happy business. Customers are happy when they come in because of the anticipation, and happy when they leave.”

Opened originally in 1979 by Thomas Block and Thomas Grim, Thomas Sweet was located on Nassau Street. The store initially offered homemade candy, and later added ice cream. There are now two locations: 29 Palmer Square West for chocolates and 183 Nassau Street for ice cream. Both the chocolate and ice cream are made on the premises daily.

Mr. Cucchi became part-owner in 2005 and sole owner in 2008, and his story exemplifies much of what Thomas Sweet has meant to so many in Princeton over the past 30 years.

Super Scooper

“I was a scooper back in the ‘80s when I was in high school,” he recalls. “It was a dream of mine that one day I could own something like Thomas Sweet.”

After graduating from Fordham Business School, Mr. Cucchi had a 15-year career as a management consultant and was vice president at Mastercard. “Consulting is a great business,” he points out, “but you travel a lot, and I really wanted to be part of a community. Thomas Sweet was a wonderful opportunity to be in the community, and it’s a terrific business.”

Continuing the tradition that Mr. Block and Mr. Grim had established, Mr. Cucchi emphasizes quality ingredients and freshness. He is very much a hands-on owner, he adds. “I’m in the stores. I keep in touch with the customers, and I also do four shifts a week at the ice cream store, scooping and making ice cream.

“And we couldn’t have the chocolate shop without our chocolatier, Karen Youngers. She makes the best chocolates, including the very popular meltaways and truffles that are hand-rolled and hand-dipped. Other favorites are the chocolate-covered strawberries and blueberry bark.”

Easter specialties include a scrumptious variety of rabbits in dark, milk, or white chocolate, solid and hollow, and in many sizes. The chocolate eggs, in two sizes, include the very popular coconut, all-chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, and the traditional fruit and nut. Customers always have their favorites, and the eggs are a much anticipated treat for many, says Ms. Youngers.

Also available, again in dark, milk, or white chocolate, are lambs, crosses, chicks (also as lolly-pops), and new this year are chocolate-covered marshmallow peeps.

Easter Baskets

Jelly beans, although not made by Thomas Sweet, are in full supply.

A selection of prepared Easter baskets is on display, and there is also a big assortment of Easter tins and containers, some egg-shaped (including tiny porcelain eggs suitable for a keepsake). “Customers can fill the containers with whatever they wish,” says Ms. Youngers, who also notes that “There is an increased interest in dark chocolate — people think it’s healthier — but milk chocolate is just as popular and continues to hold its own.”

For those who like to add a non-traditional treat to the Easter basket, the variety of Thomas Sweet novelties offers an array of choices — from chocolate make-up kits and hair sets for girls to cars and sports items for boys to musical instruments, chocolate champagne bottles and the Eiffel Tower.

Thomas Sweet’s famous packaged assortments in many varieties are carried as well, and a sugar-free selection of chocolate, also made on the premises, is offered.

In addition, Easter ice cream cakes are available at the ice cream store, and they can be customized.

Mr. Cucchi is very encouraged with his new venture, as Thomas Sweet continues its success story even in the midst of a troubled economy. “Chocolates and ice cream are an inexpensive indulgence,” he says, with a smile. “And they make people happy. I really enjoy the interaction with the customers. Many have been long-time Thomas Sweet customers. We get to know them and they’re like friends.”

New Challenges

Ms. Youngers agrees, pointing out that there are many regulars who stop in at least two or three times a week for a bit of chocolate as an afternoon “pick-me-up.”

“I love this work,” adds Mr. Cucchi. “I’ve never been happier in my career. Of course, there are always new challenges, but that’s part of business. And I’ve always believed that competition is good. It forces you to be more innovative; it stops you from getting stale or complacent.”

He also strongly believes in being part of the community, and this is reflected in a number of ways, in a variety of programs, and charitable donations. “This is important to us. For example, we have the ‘Pint for a Pint’ ice-cream/blood program. Anyone who gives a pint of blood at the University Medical Center at Princeton can get a free pint of our ice cream. We’re also involved in a program at the Princeton Public Library in which kids who complete a reading program in the summer can have a free sundae.

In addition, Thomas Sweet donates to Crisis Ministry, including offering free ice cream cones to walkers in the Walkathon against hunger, and provides gift certificates to local schools.

In keeping with his optimistic outlook, Mr. Cucchi has recently added a new component to the Thomas Street enterprise. “We have just opened the Thomas Sweet Cafe at the Village Shopper in Montgomery. It was formerly Orpha’s Coffee Shop. We roast our own coffee, offer breakfast and lunch with baked goods and paninis, and Thomas Sweet chocolates. In the summer, we will add Thomas Sweet ice cream.

“I look forward to being in town at least for the next 30 years,” he adds, smiling. “I think Thomas Sweet stands for a real quality product. Not many companies make their own chocolate and ice cream as we do, and I hope we can grow and provide opportunities for even more people to experience what we offer.”

Thomas Sweet Chocolate Shop is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 to 6. (609) 924-7222.

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