It’s not exactly off the beaten track—140 W. 55th St. is directly across the street from City Center, after all. Nonetheless, when I passed by recently I was pleasantly surprised to spot an Old World-lookingcandy store named Myzel’s that seemed out of place amid the bustle of 21st-century Manhattan.
It appeared more appropriate to New York City, circa 1963; before the rise of the banks and corporate retailers, when mom-and-pop stores still flourished.
I’d developed too much momentum to drop by on that occasion—as festive as the chocolate Easter Bunnies in the window looked—but returned last week. Out of curiosity and because, if there’s a place making affordably priced handmade chocolates, I have a moral obligation to support it.
That was my first question for proprietor Kamila Myzel when she came out from behind the counter to greet me: Is her chocolate actually homemade?
“I bake all of my cookies,” she told me. “I make part of my chocolates—as much as I can.”
She nodded in the direction of her kitchen. “It’s very small. All of the chocolate fruits and all of the baking is me. And the novelties for the holidays.”
Even though it was well past Easter, chocolate bunnies still graced her front window. Ms. Myzel, I was to discover, is one of those people who won’t let arbitrary dates on a calendar, and the expectations of small minds, stop her from piggybacking off important chocolate-centric holidays.
If she were, her shop probably wouldn’t have survived as long as it has.
“I have been here 25 years this summer,” she said as she pulled a handsome Easter rabbit, its basket filled with foil-wrapped eggs, from the window. “I have a very old metal mold from Germany. Nobody has this type of mold.”
She arrived in the U.S. from Poland in 1981 and, since she spoke German, although little English, moved to Yorkville, which used to be a German neighborhood.
“This is how I got my job,” she said of a long-gone gourmet shop on Madison Avenue in the ‘80s. “My almost-everyday customer was Mrs. Kennedy Onassis. She was buying an oatmeal raisin cookie. But a big one.”
Ms. Myzel worked at Café Geiger, a German restaurant on East 86th Street with a pastry shop, also departed.
“They had an incredible bakery,” she remembered. “That’s how I got my experience in the chocolate-making and the baking.”
We could have reminisced all day. But to what purpose, if the chocolate didn’t live up to expectations?
Luckily it did. The chocolate-covered orange peel and ginger, not to mention the liquor-laced cherry cordials, were succulent. The dark-chocolate creams popped.
I also felt obliged to try the salted caramel with nuts. Ms. Myzel informed me that an assistant to Simon Cowell, of “American Idol” fame, would be arriving at any minute to pick up an order for his boss.
It was very good.
“I don’t want to say anything,” she said, proffering yet another sample, “but the chocolate on my matzos are the best.”
If there’s any problem with the shop owner’s business model—besides the inexorable pressure of rising rents—it may be that she seems to give away almost as much as she sells. And while she had a steady stream of customers, during my visit most spent only a few dollars each.
She admitted that survival has been a challenge.
“The landlord just gave me such a hike in rent I don’t know how I’m going to make it,” she confided.
However, for Ms. Myzel, as with any serious artist, the most effective distraction from her financial worries is through the steady application of hard work.
She sometimes arrives at 6 a.m., though she’s a night person and prefers to make her cookies and chocolates after closing. Her 83-year-old mother, Lucy, with whom she lives, helps with the chocolate-making, too.
Ms. Myzel insisted I try some of her 130 varieties of licorice.
“Each has a different taste, a different texture, a different personality,” she boasted.
And where else can you have a learned discussion about chocolate turkeys?
“From Halloween they jump all the way to Christmas,” she complained of contemporary society. “Nobody is celebrating Thanksgiving any more.”
Speak for yourself. I provide a chocolate turkey to each of the kids at our Thanksgiving dinner, myself included.
Come next November, I’ll be purchasing them at Myzel’s.