The Sunshine - and Chocolate - State

It may be a reach to refer to Joseph Marmor as Willy Wonka - but not as far of one as you may think.

As the owner of Le Chocolatier - a North Miami-based company that specializes in making a wide variety of our favorite treats - Marmor attempts to inspire trust and excitement in his product. He does so by allowing visitors to observe the palatable process of chocolate creation. He also hosts birthday parties.

The business resides in a 3,500 square-food building and produces 75 types of chocolate, from a dense bowl filled with biscotti and pretzels to truffles.

Marmor, 51, bought the business, 25 years ago. He had previously worked as a hotel food and beverage director in Chicago and Israel. Today, he works with his wife, Marlene, who handles sales and marketing. The company is included in "The Chocolate Companion, A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Finest Chocolates."

What makes this chocolate so special? Marmor points to its high content of cocoa solids, along his recipes, which are tried and perfected over time.

"While working with recipes, I ask staff, `What do you think would go well with the flavor?' So we put it together."

Currently, the company is preparing for Passover and Easter chocolate traffic. Because all its chocolate is kosher, so will be April's holiday gift baskets.

Chocolate Specialities
Le Chocolatier specializes in many unique aspects of this industry. For example, it will re-create a company's logo into something delicious. Camera-ready artwork will be outsourced to a mold maker who produces the mold that is later filled with chocolate back at Le Chocolatier's kitchen. The resulting edible logo could be a flat chocolate bar, or something three-dimensional such as a recent project: a chocolate globe emblazoned with the client's name.

Corporate clients might also order chocolate boxes priced from $20 to $350 per gift basket. These can be personalized with a variety of chocolates, caramels and fudges.

The company strives to come out with at least two new chocolate truffles a year. The 2006 offerings are jalapeno and white Russian truffles. Interesting choices, to say the least.

Back at Le Chocolatier's storefront, an outdoor courtyard offers patrons an area to sit down and enjoy the company's specialty and top seller: champagne truffles. It is truly an indulgent chocolate gift

Open to the Kids
Sundays, meanwhile, are reserved for kids' birthday parties, a sideline to the company's business that Marmor started more than a year ago after years of requests.

"I introduce myself as Willy Wonka," Marmor said. "When you get 35 kids in here, they all want to have their next party there."

The cost is $15 a child with a 15-child minimum.

"Oh, I love that place," said Avi Bryan, who celebrated his sixth birthday in August with a party at Le Chocolatier that included a chocolate ganache cake.

He and his friends kept amused with activities like a chocolate-making lesson. Then, they watched the chocolate being made before being escorted to a large table where they were given Oreo cookies, marshmallows and pretzels to dip into chocolate. After that, they made bars, writing their names with icing. Each child brought chocolate home - and though they may have eaten some chocolate covered fruits none were reported to have blown up like a blueberry.