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In Sea Cliff, a chocolate shop with a conscience


As the drum of a chocolate machine whirred in the background, Terrence and Vlada Kenniff, of Glen Head, re-called brainstorming ideas for their wedding favors a decade ago. Hoping to diverge from the traditional coaster or wine stopper, they instead partnered with a Brooklyn chocolatier, whose shop they frequented, to create a tea-infused truffle made special for their big day.

“In Vlada’s Uzbek culture, tea is something that’s very important, and with tea comes something sweet, like fine chocolates,” Terrence, a 30-year veteran of the food service industry, explained. “We decided that we would incorporate Vlada’s culture with my passion for food, and came up with our wedding favors, which were Earl Grey-infused chocolate truffles.”

“In that process, we were saying we would want to open a chocolate shop,” Vlada said. “So here we are, 10 years later.”

The Kenniffs’ shop, COCO Confections & Coffee, at 365 Glen Cove Ave., combines the couple’s fervor for food and travel to metaphorically transport customers to cocoa and coffee-producing regions of the world to get a taste, as Terrence puts it, of “the finer things in life.”

The couple have traveled around Europe and Central America, curious about how other cultures consume chocolate and coffee. “We’re definitely going through our travel list here,” said Vlada, who favors Tanzanian coffee. A couple of years ago, she stayed on a coffee farm in Tanzania after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

“What we’re trying to do is allow people to indulge in handcrafted, health-forward chocolates, as well as free-trade organic coffees,” Terrence said. “Part of our mission also is to incorporate both local and global community, as well as sustainability.” Free-trade agreements signify that coffee and cocoa plantation workers have received a fair wage, and prohibit the use of child labor.

The store has been refurbished into an industrial-inspired space, with steel tables and chairs, a wide glass display case full of sweets, and a tri-tone, polished brick backsplash. A see-through shelving unit housing teapots and bags of coffee beans gives way to a small workspace in the back. A white marble-top table stretches across the middle of the room, flanked by wooden benches. Terrence said the space would be used to host chocolate-making classes for children, as well as chocolate-pairing workshops — be it with coffee, wine or whiskey — for adults.

“We’ve heard from some parents that there really isn’t much [for kids to do] when the schools close, so they’re super-excited to have a little place like this,” Vlada said.

COCO’s house chocolate is from Belgium. The Kenniffs also work with two other chocolatiers — Michael Rogak, of JoMart Chocolates in Brooklyn, and Kristi Wilson, of Sweet Impact Chocolates in Kenosha, Wis. — to stock the shelves. Wilson’s bite-sized beauties, which are Terrence’s favorite, are hand-painted to resemble star-flecked galaxies and gold-striped stones and are made using West African cocoa beans.

“She creates, in her own words, ‘chocolate with a conscience,’” Terrence said, explaining that Wilson sources her product from farms in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as a way to combat the use of child labor in the cocoa-producing regions. “The story behind it is great, and it reaches more than just your belly,” he added.

Steve Warshaw, president of the Gold Coast Business Association, said the community would greatly benefit from the boutique sweet shop. “There are a number of chocolate shops on Long Island, but they’re few and far between,” he said. “We need that for Valentine’s Day and the holidays, so people have another alternative to go to. It brings value to the neighborhood and convenience to the community.”

Moving to Glen Head a year ago, Terrence said, was “the best thing that ever could’ve happened to us. We’re right at the delta of a few different communities, and [customers] should expect a phenomenal experience, healthy organic coffees and fine chocolates served in a neighborly way.”

COCO’s tentative opening is slated for Jan. 19. For more information, visit www.coco-li.com.

*Editor's note: When this story was printed it was incorrectly stated that the new business had replaced Gilligan Realty. It has not. Gilligan Realty remains at the same location, 365 Glen Cove Ave. in Sea Cliff. Gilligan owns the building and is leasing space to COCO. Gilligan Realty can be reached at (516) 674-3777.

We would also like to clarify the mission of Kristi Wilson’s company, Sweet Impact Chocolates, which is to raise awareness about the use of child labor and slavery in cocoa-producing regions in West Africa. Wilson’s chocolate is actually sourced from countries in Central and South America, and not Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, as it was printed. We regret the errors.