The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    How sweet it is…

    It’s that time of year again. Eager men and women are flooding flower boutiques, card shops and other stores looking for that perfect Valentine’s Day gift. But while some people might be scratching their heads searching for something out of the ordinary, that sweet concoction made from cocoa beans might be the standby everyone should look into.

    At least that’s the way Tony Draganowski, the entrepreneur of Eau Claire’s new chocolate shop, Simply Chocolate, 2425 Seymour Road, feels.

    “I didn’t want to open up around Christmas and compete with everybody,” Draganowski said. “I thought why not open up on Valentine’s Day when people are looking for
    good chocolate.”

    The shop, which opened on a low- key scale Feb. 1, is just the beginning of what Draganowski said will become a larger operation.

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    “I already offer the chocolate fountains and wedding favors, and eventually I want to bring in a personal chef service,” he said. “It’s all just a facet of the big picture.”

    Draganowski, who is currently the executive chef at Draganetti’s Ristorante, 3120 Hillcrest Parkway, has had a number of challenges to face while opening up
    the shop.

    Like any small business owner in Eau Claire, he said that his first concern was keeping overhead down by selecting a location with reasonable rent costs.

    “I wanted to be on Water Street,” he said. “But it came down to choosing between a location with extremely high rent and a location where I could afford to make my dream a reality. Now my goal is to make this a place people talk about.”

    As far as competition goes, he said Simply Chocolate’s products set his shop aside from most stores in the Eau Claire area, and that, truthfully, he “doesn’t care what anybody else is doing.”

    Draganowski said he did six months of research to put together what would become Simply Chocolate.

    “I’ve been taking my time to collect everything,” he said. “Every piece of chocolate in here is different.”

    UW-Eau Claire sophomore Susan Peck said she supports the idea of a chocolate specialty shop being opened locally.

    “I think that would be wonderful,” Peck said. “It’s hard to find good stuff in town.”
    She said she feels chocolate is underrepresented in the Eau Claire area, both in availability as well as in quality.

    “You can find specialty shops in most cities, but here it’s like you go to Wal-Mart or something and grab your standard bar of chocolate,” she said.

    The difference between his shop and the other stores in town that sell chocolate, Draganowski said, is the attention to sell chocolate more as a delicacy and less like a junk food.

    “Every piece of chocolate is a piece of art,” he said.

    Whereas cards and jewelry might carry sentimental weight for Valentine’s Day, only chocolate has spawned such an obsession as to warrant its own addiction classification.
    Yes, ‘chocoholics’ abound, but why?

    Professor Daniele Piomelli of the Neuroscience Institute at Northwestern University is among many researchers who have studied the food’s physical implications on the human mind and body.

    “Caffeine and theobromine are both among the stimulants found in chocolate,” Piomelli said. “Combinations of stimulants like these may result in the lift that a person eating a serving or more of chocolate might feel.”

    Piomelli also said that chocolate contains stimulants such as Phenylethylamine, which may cause reactions in neurotransmitters similar to amphetamines. Anandamide, another stimulant found in chocolate, may cause reactions similar to those of THC, the chemical in marijuana.

    “This doesn’t mean that chocolate will get you high,” Piomelli said. “It just means that the chemicals found in chocolate may result in the good feelings often associated with eating chocolate.”

    Psychoactive or not, chocolate remains a focus of retail chains and specialty shops alike.

    In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, specialty online shops like have focused entire sales campaigns on getting the sugary treat out to the romantic public.

    And now, Eau Claire has its own local distributor of the sweet stuff.

    But why are people so keen on something so simple?

    Peck said that the allure might reside in the fact that chocolate is often viewed as a food delegated to special occasions.

    “It’s something that your parents just never let you have,” she said. “When somebody gives it to you, it makes it even better.”

    Draganowski said chocolate’s true connection to Valentine’s Day is its natural association with romance and love.

    He said that receiving a box of real chocolate is something that people instantly recognize as special., what he calls a “signature item.”

    “Simply Chocolate isn’t a candy store,” Draganowski said. “I want to create something really spectacular. It’s starting small, but it’s perfect in my eyes.”

    Aside from the pressures of selecting location and building up an inventory, Draganowski has had to contend with the ultimate question: Will Eau Claire be receptive to such a specialized shop?

    Draganowski said he knew that he had to move forward with the project, regardless of what happened.

    “It’s a chance I take, and if it doesn’t take off, at least I tried,” he said.

    When all is said and done, Draganowski said that his only goal is to make Simply Chocolate “a destination, something people enjoy and talk about.”

    This spirit of celebration for chocolate was a driving force behind opening up his own specialty shop, he said.

    “The way I sell chocolate, I sell it as more of a luxury item,” Draganowski said. “It’s something special to give.”

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