In 1987, Paula and Larry Burdick were launching their chocolate company, L.A. Burdick, from their workshop in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Paula, when not running the sweater business she co-owned with a friend, was handling the business end. Larry, a Swiss-trained chocolatier, was perfecting his mouse bonbons. With ganache-filled bodies, silk tails, and almond-sliver ears, the mice were an upgrade of a children’s treat Larry had seen while abroad and an embodiment of the Burdicks’ chocolate ethos—European-inspired, handcrafted, made with the best available ingredients. Their landlord’s young daughter, however, felt differently. “She thought they were terrible,” Paula recalls. “Being from New York, all she could think of were rats.”
Thankfully, this was a minority opinion. The mice, and Larry’s other creations, proved hugely popular with caterers, restaurants like Bouley, and corporate clients like Barneys, and L.A. Burdick has grown mightily in the intervening years. The company is now based in Walpole, NH, where the Burdicks and their 100-some employees not only make the products and run the mail-order business, but also operate a chocolate shop-and-café, gourmet grocery store, chocolate making school, and restaurant. They also own two satellite cafés. One, in Harvard Square, has been a fixture for over a decade. The second, opened in late 2009, is in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, steps from FIT.
These days, Paula mostly works on brand management. She art-directs Burdick catalogues, packaging, website, and inserts, all created in house. She also helps select and maintain the stores’ decor—this past holiday season, she drove the four-plus hours to New York City just to help hang wreaths. Everything—whether it’s the dovetail-jointed wooden chocolate boxes or the petite whisks included with their fondue gift sets—is chosen to reflect the company’s continuing artisanal practices (the chocolates are still handmade) and attention to the smallest detail. “I’m always going to ribbon stores, gift and packaging trade shows,” she says. “I use all my FIT training.”
Paula also pitches in with product ideas, even though, as she confesses, “chocolate’s not my thing.” It was her idea to prepare their hot chocolate with a milk steamer, more commonly used to make latte or cappuccino. The drink has since become the cafés’ biggest draw, particularly in Cambridge, where it has a devoted following among the students on nearby Harvard campus. In fact, within hours of opening the Manhattan shop, staffers were fielding calls and visits from nostalgic, and excitable, Harvard grads. “One woman screamed—screamed—into the phone,” says Craig Ortiz, the café’s manager. “Fifteen minutes later, she pulled up in a cab.”
Paula, too, is excited about the new location. Though she grew up outside of Boston and lives in small-town New England, she retains a special affection for New York City, home to both her alma mater and the early days of L.A. Burdick.
“I definitely plan on spending more time in Manhattan,” she says. “I can’t remember why I left.”