The sweet love story that saved a legendary NYC chocolate shop

FOREST HILLS, NEW YORK – Aigner Chocolates in Queens has a secret ingredient that has sustained the legendary 90-year-old pastry shop: love.

“I think chocolate is really important,” said Mark Libertini, co-owner and head chocolate maker, “because it brought us together.”

His romance with Rachel Kellner did not stem from a barrel of aged chocolate but instead at a tapas restaurant in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn that Mark once owned.

“Rachel is a restaurant frequenter. She actually went on a date to the restaurant once,” said Libertini, playfully scowling at his current wife. “Once she came alone and we were talking and she had the idea ‘food is therapy.'”

Libertini made his match the next day. He texted Kellner, wanting to know more about her idea.

“I will never forget that text message,” Kellner said. “It was a big, crazy idea, and this is someone I just met and he believed in me. That was the moment I fell in love with him even when I first met him.”

The couple eventually tabulated the idea of ​​food as therapy, didn’t know how to monetize it, and got attached to other things when they started dating and eventually moved to Queens.

Years later, Libertini was driving down Metropolitan Avenue and stopped at a chocolate shop to buy Kellner some sweets. When he tried to enter, he realized the business was closed. But there is a phone number at the front door.

Kellner recalls that day: “It was always his dream to open a chocolate shop. “And if you know my husband, you know that he didn’t just call right away, he met them that day.”

In a span of four weeks, they signed a property contract, built the store of their dreams, stocked up on a pile of inventory, and opened in time for Halloween 2015.

Embraced by their Queens community, where this chocolate shop has been a base for nearly a century, the couple never looked back, even as the world around them changed irrevocably.

“Our vision is to share our love for the art of chocolate making to make the world a better place, and we created that vision statement years ago,” says Kellner. seven years, I don’t know what the last two years will bring.”

Queens, and Elmhurst Hospital Center in particular, had been the focal point of the nation’s pain and suffering during the initial pandemic, and Libertini and Kellner wanted to find a way to give back.

They came up with an idea called the Rainbow Bunny Exchange, which involved giving a free portion of chocolate bunnies to any child who drew a picture of a rainbow with a message of hope for frontline workers. head.

“We had an initial goal of collecting 100 rainbows, and we ended up collecting 315,” Kellner said. “After we delivered them, they collaged them. There was still a rainbow in the lobby of Elmhurst hospital. It was truly our proudest moment.”

“And it is permanently visible,” adds Libertini.

The Rainbow Bunny exchange led to a similar idea, Flower Power, which involved children drawing pictures of flowers to spread hope. This time, they collected more than 1,500 drawings.

In total, Aigner Chocolates has donated nearly $20,000 worth of chocolate to hospitals and local causes during the pandemic. In the process, Kellner and Libertini unwittingly achieved the goal they had set years earlier, finally executing well on the idea that brought them together in the first place.

“The idea that food is therapy is therapy,” says Mark. “And we didn’t even know we were working on that concept.”

Since buying the store, they have been married, have one child (for a total of three), and learned to be business partners besides life partners. Over the years, they’ve grown to love this recipe more and more.

Bustling on Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest stores of the year, the irony is that this particular sweets shop covered in floor-to-ceiling heart isn’t lost on Kellner.

“We need to stop and remind ourselves that this chocolate shop is a love story,” she said, “and our dream has come true.” The sweet love story that saved a legendary NYC chocolate shop

Dais Johnston

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