Vince Grishaber, Operations Mgr./Taste Tester, Harry London Chocolates/Fannie May
As this ops manager often tells people during facility tours, he started at the company 17 years and 50 pounds ago.
“That usually gets a good laugh,” he says. “Especially when I tell them it’s the truth.”
With Valentine’s Day coming in second only to Christmas in chocolate sales, Grishaber could be considered a confectionary cupid but, he says, his customers “usually want to know where their chocolate is. They’re not too concerned with how romantic I am.”
Happily married for 16 years to wife Kimberly, Grishaber says it’s a safe bet she’ll be getting chocolate-dipped strawberries for Valentine’s Day (the company is expected to dip close to 50,000 berries this year).
As for his own sweet tooth, Grishaber prefers dark chocolates; the recently re-released Carmarsh (marshmallow and caramel covered in dark chocolate) and the classic Pixies (made with caramel, dark chocolate and pecans) are his favorites.
“I’ll never be sick of chocolate,” he says.
How long have you served on Harry London’s tasting panel?
VG: Since the panel’s inception several years ago. We wanted to find people like myself who were knowledgeable of the taste and flavor profile expectations. The people on the panel are considered ‘A’-listers because they’re hard to fool when we do any taste-testing. Our panel consists of approximately 20 employees and ranges from people who’ve been here for three years to 30-plus years.
Experts say your taste buds are freshest in the morning. Would you say it’s best to eat chocolate for breakfast?
VG: That’s usually what I have for breakfast.
Favorite part of your job?
VG: Anytime you can be part of something that brings people joy, it’s a great feeling — and that’s what we do on a daily basis.
VG: We put in a lot of hours during the peak season. It can be tricky juggling the time here with time at home. I’m fortunate that my family understands the nature of our business.
Tell us about a few of the memorable confections you’ve taste-tested.
VG: I always remember the first time I tried a Trinidad and thought how great it was, with the toasted coconut in the yellow chocolate with a truffle center. The strangest was a piece I tested in Confection Class. One of my classmates brought in a turtle [a candy made from chocolate, soft caramel and toasted pecans] that was flavored with jalapeño flakes. It was a very good mix of sweet and hot!
Have you ever had an “I Love Lucy” situation, where the conveyor belt went haywire and chocolates came out too quickly to wrap?
VG: Those situations come up mostly when you have a brand-new person on a line that’s getting trained. When you step back for the first time to let them try the procedure, it’s sometimes funny because they’re convinced they have it and realize very quickly it’s not as easy as it looks. We have over 150 people who do exactly what Lucy was doing on a daily basis in our packout area.
What’s your guilty pleasure? (Probably not eating chocolate!)
VG: Anything football. I’m a fanatic for the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes.
Which cinematic Willy Wonka do you prefer: Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp?
VG: Gene Wilder. Johnny Depp was a little creepy.
Any hot trends in chocolate this year?
VG: We’re seeing a lot of chocolate products with sea salt, particularly caramels and toffees. There’s also been quite a bit of experimentation with spices such as cayenne and ginger.
In wine tastings, people often sip and then spit the wine into a bucket. Please tell me chocolate doesn’t get abused this way.
VG: NEVER ... not from this guy anyway!!!