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Local chocolatiers find sweet success with dessert award nomination

A duo of local chocolatiers have created a new product that is drawing national attention.

The latest creation from Sweet Secrets Chocolate founders Dede Barnicle, of Wheaton, and Terri Kinney, of Glen Ellyn, is the chocolate pretzel pizza. It consists of M&M’s, chocolate cookie chunks, chocolate chips, sprinkles and sugar cone pieces resting atop a homemade pretzel.

The sweet treat has proved popular with patrons around the country, as well as with judges at the Chicago Fine Chocolate and Dessert Show, who nominated the pretzel pizza as a finalist for “Best New Product” at the annual Chocolate and Dessert Innovation Awards.

“We’ve had such huge positive feedback on that product, it’s crazy,” Kinney said.

She estimated that, once the holiday season starts up, the two will produce hundreds of the pizzas.

Sweet Secrets will compete against big names in chocolate for the prize, including the likes of Dove, Kinney said. Not bad for a company started on a whim six years ago.

The two longtime friends were discussing starting a business together, Barnicle said. When she mentioned she could make chocolate to Kinney, the pair quickly realized their calling and began selling small batches of truffles, pretzel bark and pretzel sticks to local shops and businesses in the area.

“We decided to give it a try, and it’s been fun,” Kinney said. “Sometimes people say good friends shouldn’t go into business together or family shouldn’t go into business together, but we get along pretty well.”

Barnicle, who trained at The French Pastry School in Chicago, handles much of the candy making, while Kinney uses her background in business to make sure things run smoothly outside the kitchen.

Sweet Secrets Chocolate has grown slowly and steadily thanks to a reputation for quality, they said.

“The people who buy from us are repeat customers who recommend us and know we have a great product,” Kinney said.

“We have a really big word of mouth, just a loyal clientele. We didn’t necessarily have to be in storefronts, because people were seeking us out.”

Jill Foucre, the owner of Marcel’s Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn, said that her store has carried various Sweet Secrets products since it opened two years ago.

“First of all, it’s a great product. The quality is really good. If that wasn’t there, none of the rest would matter,” Foucre said. “They use great chocolate, really fresh, and people love the local connection.”

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