Chocolate Revives: Hurricane And The Holocaust | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Chocolate Revives: Hurricane And The Holocaust

Chocolate Revives: Hurricane And The Holocaust

Chocolate Treats. Courtesy of the Madelaine Chocolate Company

A Queens-Based Chocolate Company’s Tales of Recovery and Survival

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For the Rockaway Beach-headquartered Madelaine Chocolate Company, gratitude for recovery is embedded in each piece of chocolate that flows off the conveyor belts.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy severely damaged much of the chocolatier’s equipment. Initially, Jorge Farber, CEO and president, was not sure what to do following the storm. However, when he reflected on his second and third-generation company, and its extended family of 450 employees, his thoughts were consumed with how to rebuild.

When New York City representatives visited the factory at the recent anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, they found that the storm damaged, silt-filled equipment had been sanitized and repaired. To date, the company has achieved about 85% of pre-disaster production. Chocolate fishes were the first post-Sandy treat to swim off the factory line on June 20, 2013.

This principle of recuperation also guided the company in 2010 when a shattering earthquake demolished much of Haiti where one third of Madelaine’s employees were from and had family. Madelaine made a $10,000 gift to Haitian earthquake relief and set up an on-site tzedakah box for employees to make their own contributions to the fund. 

As Jorge’s daughter Estee Farber, Madelaine’s Marketing Director, said in a recent phone interview, “No one was exempt from feeling pain at home and at work. He wanted to do the right thing by his family, the business, and the people that rely on them.”

I first learned about Madeleine’s start in chocolate while researching stories of World War II refugee and immigrant chocolate-making for my book, On the Chocolate Trail. Estee reflected on their recovery from Sandy with this history in mind, “there’s a resiliency to our family from its Holocaust background.”

During the Holocaust, the Nazis imprisoned Estee’s grandmother Helen in a labor camp in Poland, her great-aunt, Esther, in a labor camp in Czechoslovakia, her grandfather in Buchenwald, and murdered a great-uncle in Auschwitz. Family tales of narrow escapes and luck were always at the forefront of the Farbers’ minds, not in a sad way, but in an uplifting way. Estee’s grandmother often told stories about maintaining humanity, even in the concentration camp.

After the war, Esther and Helen married Jack Gold and Henry Kaye. Gold and Kaye had been sponsored to come to the States by Stephen Klein, who employed them in his company, the well-known Barton’s Bonbonniere Company. Klein further assisted as Gold and Kaye opened a chocolate packaging plant on West 18th Street in Manhattan.

In 1949 Gold and Kaye developed a line of European-style chocolates, calling it Madelaine. Estee explains that her grandfather was enamored with Madeleine Carroll, a popular British actress of the 1930s and 40s. Since they wanted a European and feminine aura for the company, they named it after her.

The direction of the business turned to foil-wrapped chocolate novelties for holidays and special occasions. Ironically, this observant Jewish family’s first product was kosher certified chocolate Easter eggs. More recently, Madelaine has been featured on the Food Network’s show Unwrapped in which host Marc Summers visited Madelaine’s kitchen to explore how their treats are made behind the scenes.

As a child Estee Farber did her homework at the factory and answered the phones when she was old enough. She joined the staff in 2003 and works alongside her parents and many other family members. Every day finds this former student of the French Culinary Institute nibbling on some treat or another. Her favorite is the hazelnut truffle.

Just as the Barton’s created a refuge for many World War II immigrants, today, Madelaine does the same for immigrants from around the world in Queens.

Estee ponders her family’s journey through trauma, “If our grandparents’ generation could get through the Holocaust, we could get through the storm in 2012. It represents more than a business. It represents a family coming with nothing, after having lost so much and building so much to provide for so many, creating a better life for them and for so many people.”

An important family lesson she has learned is to “have faith in yourself, in other people, in doing the right thing, in setting priorities, and don’t give up.”  I’ll take some of those teachings of appreciation and gratitude in my chocolate, please.

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