SALT LAKE CITY — The TV cameras are long gone, but Steve Hatch is still here, making and serving hand-dipped chocolates that are as much art as confection at Hatch's Family Chocolates. As the Valentine's Day crowd drops by, Hatch takes up his familiar post, leaning on a chair and chatting up customers.
Maybe you remember "Little Chocolatiers," the reality TV show that aired on the TLC network in 2010, featuring Steve and his wife Katie working in their shop. No? Well, there were only a dozen of the shows and then it disappeared as fast as their chocolate-covered cherries.
"Apparently, we're boring," Steve says dryly, standing by my table, chin resting on an arm that is propped on a chair.
The truth is, Steve agreed to do the show — despite serious reservations about its true interest in the couple — because it would advertise the shop, and it has done just that. Business spiked during the show, and though it has fallen some since its cancellation, it has permanently boosted sales. Now it's just about the chocolates. Before, it was, well, about something else.
When TLC originally inquired about doing a show, Steve had no illusions about why they were asking.
"Obviously, it was the novelty, the cuteness, of two little people running a shop," he says.
Steve is 3-foot-9, Katie 4-foot-2. The way Steve explains it, little people is the polite term, dwarves the scientific term, the M-word the unacceptable term.
Steve "bluntly" turned down the show the first time he was asked. TLC kept calling. When Katie and Steve told a friend they didn't want to stand out for being short, the friend — also a little person — told them: "Get over it. You're always going to stand out." He convinced them that not only would it be good for business, but it would show the independence and relative normalcy of life for little people. Steve and Katie relented, and the show aired.
"We're different," Steve says. "You can resent it or embrace it. Ultimately, we wanted some other little person to realize he or she could do what they wanted. We decided to jump on it. It was the chance of a lifetime."
Now, the show is gone and Steve is philosophical. "Our chocolate shop is our priority; we didn't do it to be TV stars," he says.
For Steve, the roots of the chocolate shop are tied to family, but it took time to get here. His mother was killed in a car accident. Steve's father Jerry married a woman a few years later, making Steve one of 11 children in their combined families and the only little person.
"My (step)mother has always treated me as one of her natural children," Steve says. "She was instrumental in making me an independent person. She raised me like a normal-size child. I got no special treatment."
Steve, now 41, was senior class president at American Fork High. He was student body president at Utah Valley University. He served a mission for the LDS Church. He studied business and political science. He served an internship with former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. He covered sports for the UVU newspaper. He took a job at UVU working with students with disabilities and advocating their cause on Capitol Hill. For all that, he struggled as a student — "I was a class clown," he says. He finally dropped out of college, at age 30, without a degree.
"I still didn't know what I wanted to do," he says. "I had a lot of interests, but everything I had done was centered around people."
Along the way, while attending a little people's conference, he met Katie Masterson, whose family owned and operated a pub in Chicago. He moved to Chicago but decided it was too cold and returned to Utah. She followed a few months later, and they married.
He finally decided his future. Many years ago, his grandmother, Hazel Hatch, made hand-dipped chocolates to die for. She earned a reputation for her chocolates, which she gave to friends and sold at boutiques. His father kept the tradition alive. Steve and Katie decided to take it a step further by opening a chocolate shop. Katie learned the art of dipping chocolates — which she does in the basement of the shop. Steve handles quality control (which he says with a wink) and customer relations.
"It takes a fine hand to dip chocolates and someone who's patient," Steve explains. "I stink at it. Chocolate is temperamental. If it's too hot or too cold, it's not going to come out right." Why does it matter if chocolates are hand dipped or created on an assembly line? "If you run it through a conveyor belt, you can set the machine so fine that you get a thin layer of chocolate. With hand-dipped, each one is a different thickness. It makes for a better, thicker piece of chocolate."
It is no accident that their shop is located in a neighborhood setting in the Avenues. They wanted to be part of the community, a place where people would gather to visit while sampling candies, pastries, ice cream, hot chocolate, shakes and anything else you can create with cocoa.
"I am lucky," Steve says. "I get to meet so many people coming in. It's fun to see what everyone's backgrounds are."
Steve is a warm man, with a big smile and a firm, meaty handshake. If he is bitter about the curveball life has thrown at him, he doesn't show it. His hospitality and conversation are as good as his chocolate.
"You take what you get," he says. "Some of life stinks. I could sit in my house and feel sorry for myself and think life's unfair. You know, everyone pointing and staring at me. Or I can get off the couch and just keep going. It's OK to be afraid of things, but you still have to do it."
As for the attention he draws, he says, "Anybody who's different is going to be stared at. I can't fault people for that. But some of it — like someone saying, 'Look at the midget!' — that's the equivalent of the N-word. Look, it's obvious that Kate and I are a novelty. Some people come in here who just want to check out the little people. Whatever gets them in the door. The thing that brings them back is the quality of our product."
Later, Steve would email to me a video clip of a conversation between Rosie O'Donnell and her TV guest Chelsea Handler in which they blithely banter about Rosie's fear of little people. It is a clip that is so outrageously ignorant and profoundly inconsiderate that you wonder how it escaped notice. Imagine Rosie's reaction if someone discussed a fear of overweight lesbians.
"How does this portray little people?" wrote Steve. "If they had a fear of someone who is gay, black or any type of difference, would this discussion be considered offensive?"
Fortunately, Steve finds refuge and warmth in his little shop tucked away in the Avenues. He savors the banter with the customers, not to mention the rich chocolate that his wife dips with her hands.
"You have to take risks," he is saying. "You have to make your own life."