‘Dream Job’ for Kosher Chocolatier

Ruthie Carliner at her shop and chocolate factory The Velvet Chocolatier in Stevenson. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

She drives a chocolate-colored station wagon and wears a chocolate-colored apron and if you’d like to take a seat in the cozy retail section of her chocolate shop/kitchen in Stevenson Village, have a seat in the chocolate-colored leather easy chair and get ready for a heavenly chocolate-covered experience at Ruthie Carliner’s The Velvet Chocolatier.

One step into the kosher chocolate shop and you will feel chocolate-covered, just from the dark, sweet aroma of chocolate being melted, dipped, set and packaged right in the small shop at 10403 Stevenson Road, Suite B.

For Carliner, 57, the kosher part was a given, as she has always kept a kosher home. The chocolate part? That took a while. A Pikesville native, Carliner graduated from Pikesville High and then attended George Washington University where she majored in finance and became a CPA. The road to a life of chocolate didn’t start until after she sold her father’s car sales business, Penn Pontiac, following his death.

“I did work for my father about 12 years before he passed away,” Carliner said. “One of the great things was I had a young family, so I worked part-time and I could be home with my family and it was great. And then when my father passed away, I ran the business.”

But in 2007 she sold the business and began to consider what to do next.

Ruthie Carliner dips waffle potato chips in dark chocolate while Sarah Hewtitt packages chocolate bark. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“Maybe a dietician or something. I didn’t know. I love to work, I just didn’t know what was around the corner,” she recalled. “I went to culinary school and I came across a class in chocolate — I have always loved chocolate — and I was fascinated by the science, math, the precision. What fascinated me the most was that you can’t replicate chocolate. You can do that with a pie or a cake in a bakery, more or less, but chocolate? There’s a certain mystery to it. And I really liked that.”

But her chocolate education didn’t begin and end at Baltimore International College.

“One of the teachers at the school was Swiss. And she taught baking and stuff. And I asked her if she knew anything about chocolate and she did. She came to my house and gave me lessons in how to make chocolate and the difference between what European chocolates offer, versus American,” Carliner said. “Then I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, for a week-long chocolate class. That was an American teacher and an American course and I really saw the differences. Americans put sugar in the chocolate, European is about flavor and snap.”

Next, she took a class in North Carolina with a Belgian chocolatier and when she came home began developing her unique line of chocolates combining what she had learned, with her own preferences and personality.

Her first chocolate manufacturing was done at an unused warming kitchen at Weinberg Village that she rented for about a year. In 2010 she began selling her chocolates, “peddling” she prefers to call it, to markets around town and to the wholesale market. A year later, she had established herself well enough to open the shop in Stevenson Village. Much of her business is corporate clients, whose company colors are matched with her packages’ signature velvet ribbons.

An early riser, Carliner’s typical day starts at dawn with a 5 a.m. stop at the gym before arriving at The Velvet Chocolatier at about 6 a.m., where she says her favorite way to start the day is with one of her own cashew chews and nostalgia television.

Chocolate-dipped potato chips. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“I’m here. I got a busy schedule. I’ll make my chocolate and I’m out. And I’m home by 9,” she said. “I’m married to my husband 33 years and we have three children, two of which are married with children and one is in New York. And I think that’s what the meat of this whole thing is — I get here so early in the morning and then I’m a grandmother, or a mother, whatever I’m going to do the rest of the afternoon.”

“I turn on ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns, and it’s just me and my chocolate. There’s nothing better,” she added. “It sets me up for the whole day.”

The name The Velvet Chocolatier came from a high school girlfriend during a phone conversation to Boston, but the kosher part of the business was a given.

“I thought, I have a kosher kitchen at home, if I’m going to do something in the food area, why wouldn’t I be? It just made sense,” she said, adding that the chocolates are certified kosher. “And I also liked [keeping kosher] because, you don’t have to explain yourself when you’re closed for a Jewish holiday.”

Sarah Hewitt, chocolate curator and Carliner’s only other employee, is not Jewish but she also appreciates the Saturdays and holidays off.

“Even when we get very busy, we know that that is a time when we can’t be here,” she said.

Hewitt, 23, has been with Carliner since her first year of college at University of Baltimore, where she earned her degree in business. She’s now in grad school majoring in industrial psychology.

Like Carliner, she loves chocolate and chocolate making.

Velvet Chocolatier’s Sarah Hewitt, chocolate curator, and Ruthie Carliner, owner and chocolatier. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“It’s just a very pleasant thing to do,” Carliner said. “That’s all I can say. And dealing with chocolate, what could be so bad? It’s just lovely. Isn’t it, Sarah?”

“It’s very relaxing to me,” Hewitt answered.

“Very relaxing,” Carliner said.

Like Carliner, Hewitt’s favorite is the cashew chew, which includes toasted cashews in vanilla caramel with a hint of salt, dipped in dark chocolate.

Best-sellers are caramel cups and toffee bark, the former made famous by a mention on Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2011 after one of Oprah’s crew members brought them to her attention. The rest of the line includes chocolate hearts, truffles, chocolate disks, chocolate sandwiches and break-away bars with the days of the week in Hebrew. Chocolate spoons and chocolate-dipped waffle potato chips are relative newcomers.

“First of all, this is so time-consuming, if I don’t love it, I’m not making it. So, I guess my first priority is, do I like it?” Carliner said. “And as far as my niche? I thought being kosher was a good niche: kosher, all-natural, no preservatives, no liqueurs and European-inspired.”

“There was nothing around like that,” she added. “I don’t think there really is, still.”


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