For the love of chocolate: Presentation on famed sweet treat given in Romolo Chocolate space

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 6:11 PM

America loves chocolate.  The United States consumes over 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, more than any other country in the world.  The charm of the sweet treat is not lost on anybody, not even professional groups of scientists.

A Feb. 19 presentation sponsored by the Erie Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS), titled “For the Love of Chocolate,” was given to ACS members, students, faculty and others interested on Tuesday evening in Romolo Chocolates’ Sugar room.  Sugar, an event space “inspired by the whimsical worlds of Candyland, Willie Wonka and Alice in Wonderland,” set a suitable scene for the event.

As attendees set foot in a building that used to operate as a bar attached to the old bowling alley on Eighth Street, they were bombarded by bright colors and strong aromas. The room smelled of the complementary coffee and complementary chocolates sitting atop the countertops near the stage where the presentation took place.  The Lollipop trees, gumdrop mushrooms, gingerbread houses and cotton candy clouds painted on the building’s interior created a unique atmosphere.  Each table was set for the attendees with colorful tablecloths.

On top of the tabletops sat a mini-gumball machine filled to the brim with M&Ms and a sampling plate of the chocolatier’s best-known confections. Guests were also given a raffle ticket to enter for one of four chocolate gift baskets to be given away after Steffanelli’s talk.  
The presentation began with the story of how Romolo Chocolates began in the Erie area.

Romolo Steffanelli, the company’s namesake, emigrated to America from Italy in 1906.  He grew the business from the basement of his home on Raspberry Street in downtown Erie along with his wife, Elizabeth.  The company opened retail space first in 1955, and the rest was history.  The local chocolate shop, known for its sponge candy, fresh fruit confections and chocolate covered cremes, has been growing in the Erie community for nearly 100 years and four generations.

Then, the various processes of creating confections were explained to the chemists and aspiring chemists in the audience.

The audience was intrigued by the presentation and asked various questions about the processes, like how long it takes to make a batch of sponge candy or the most difficult part of creating the perfect chocolate-covered cherries.

Despite the undeniable focus of the audience, it was difficult not to notice a constant tick sound coming from the back of the room.

A retired male ACS member sitting in the rear of the crowd slowly turned the dial on the old-style mini-gumball dispenser every couple of minutes to satisfy his sweet tooth during the talk.  His effort to be discreet was in vain, but his attention never wavered from the speaker.

With each confection explained, the audience was directed to eat the chocolate being explained by Steffanelli.  Almost everybody was done with the chocolate before Steffanelli had finished directing them on which one to eat, and it was hard not to notice the anticipation as to which chocolate would be eaten next during his explanations.

The general process of each confection was told to the audience, but Steffanelli withheld confirmation about the finest details of the production cycle.  The specific type of chocolate the company purchases was not revealed (“I can’t tell you that…you know my father,” Steffanelli said).  When asked about how Romolo consistently produces fresh chocolate-covered fruit, Steffanelli revealed that the company gets to hand-pick the best produce from a local Giant Eagle.

“We get to cherry-pick produce from Yorktown’s Giant Eagle produce,” Steffanelli said.  “We’ve been doing it from the start, and we keep up on them to make sure we get to continue to [do so].”

When the second portion of the presentation concluded and it was time to announce the winners of the chocolate raffles, a sense of excitement took over the room.  As each name was announced, those who were not called seemed to reluctantly clapped for the winner.

The newly-elected chairperson of the Erie ACS and Gannon chemistry professor Dr. Keith Krise concluded the event, thanking the crowd for attending the yearly ACS science café and reminding the audience about upcoming opportunities.  

Steffanelli then offered the extra samples located in a far corner of the Sugar building to the guests to grab on their way out.  Most of the crowd left emptyhanded, as those who got there first stuffed more than their share of what remained into the white bags provided.

The various processes explained why Erie ACS and northwest Pennsylvanians in general support Romolo Chocolates as well as they do.  Highly-educated chemists listened to a presentation on intricate chemical processes of how chocolate confections are made, but couldn’t resist the candy dispenser designed for young children. The group of intellectual community members listened to the formal presentation but couldn’t wait to begin eating the sugar-filled treats Steffanelli talked about.  The dignified chemists flocked the leftovers like vultures, ignoring proper sharing etiquette to get an extra chocolate-covered cherry or the last piece of sponge candy.  Regardless of age, education, gender, background and profession, everybody loves chocolate.  Romolo Chocolates hopes to continue to attract those with a love for sweets in the Erie area.

Jake Benhart |

View Our YouTube Channel
Edinboro TV
Find Us on Instagram