In 2009, Jami and Kevin Wray purchased Peterbrooke Chocolatier, a lovely shop in a 1920’s building right in the middle of Winter Park, Florida’s Park Avenue shopping district. They always keep the door open so passersby can enjoy the incredible aromas of the chocolate creations they make every day. Many Central Florida families enjoy the tradition of stopping by for a free sample of Peterbrooke’s famous chocolate covered popcorn when shopping on Park Avenue. The holidays are the busiest season for Peterbrooke, but Jami took a moment to share with us her vision for this lovely little chocolate shop.
Can you talk a little bit about how you came to own Peterbrooke in Winter Park?
I think it was a gift from heaven. My husband Kevin and I had just returned to Orlando from living in Costa Rica for a year and a half and were both looking for jobs. A friend introduced us to someone in Jacksonville that was looking for a restaurant partner. Through a sidebar conversation with them, we learned that Peterbrooke’s founder, Phyllis Geiger, was retiring and selling her chocolate stores, including her Winter Park location. I’ve dreamed of owning a chocolate shop since I was a kid so it was music to my ears. We made the trip back to Winter Park to check out the shop and fell in love at first sight. This was in 2009 during bad economic times, but we saw a lot of promise and potential for Peterbrooke and we were right.
Many times the designs are inspired by guest requests for custom projects but other times they come from myself or our staff. We’re all very creative and we like to make chocolate “art”. We’ve never turned down a request to make a chocolate project yet. We also like to stay current with trends and we get inspiration from pop culture, popular TV shows, or even the eclectic mix of people around us in Winter Park.
What are your aspirations for Peterbrooke in Winter Park? Are you going to continue to diversify your product line, or specialize? What do you see as the Peterbrooke “mission?”
Oh my! I could go on forever here. My dream since we bought our location has been to grow it enough to eventually rent the upstairs space above us and turn it into a 2-story chocolate factory and tourist destination. I’d love to have little inside sitting areas and big interactive machines with lots of activity and fun going on everywhere. That’s the longer term dream, but in the short term, we’d like to expand on a smaller scale. We recently got our beer and wine license and we’d like to get approved for outside seating to be able to serve wine/beer and desserts along with our gelato. I think we’re a perfect place for guests to visit for a sweet treat after eating dinner or shopping on The Avenue.
For gifts, I like to give assorted chocolate gift baskets or buckets of Chocolate Covered Popcorn. For table centerpieces or dessert tables, we make chocolate assortment trees and strawberry trees. For stocking stuffers we have a wide range of fun things like small chocolate foils or cute frosted shortbread cookies.
Do you offer anything special, like Advent calendars, to count down the days until Christmas?
Yes, we have really unique, reusable felt Advent calendars in the shape of Christmas trees. They have little mittens with each number of the month and inside each mitten is a piece of foiled chocolate. Lots of guests buy the calendars and then just buy refill chocolates the following years.
Can you share a recipe for the holidays?
Since we’re so busy this time of year, I like to make a quick and easy (also healthy and delicious) Dark Chocolate Nutty Bark. It’s fun because you can add in, or substitute, the nuts with your favorite mix-ins for a holiday twist. Items could include goodies like peppermint pieces, cranberries, pretzels or marshmallows and grahams (S’mores).
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
16 ounces Peterbrooke dark chocolate baking chips
1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel sea salt (or any sea salt) *Not recommended when adding sweet toppings like peppermint or S’mores to the recipe.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (or use rectangular shaped chocolate molds if you have them). Toast nuts in a dry pan until warmed and fragrant. Let the nuts cool and set aside.
In a double boiler, slowly melt chocolate, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour onto lined baking sheet and smooth out evenly into a rectangular shape (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
Immediately top with nuts and/or other toppings and then evenly sprinkle with sea salt (don’t use sea salt if you’re using sweet toppings, just omit this step). Set aside for 1 to 2 hours (or 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge) until chocolate hardens. Break into pieces and serve.
Makes about 24 bite sized pieces.