PLEASANT GROVE — With a name like the Truffle Cottage, you might be surprised at how this Utah County custom chocolate business made a name for itself.
Hint: It had very little to do with hearts or flowers, and very much to do with superheroes and frozen Han Solos.
The Truffle Cottage has been quietly operating since 2013 in the basement of Jennie Hales' 150-year-old home in Pleasant Grove. In her commercial kitchen there, she creates custom chocolate truffle creations that regularly sell out at comic fan conventions across the nation.
After first sharing her uniquely flavored truffles with family and friends, she did a booth five years ago at Strawberry Days, Pleasant Grove's city celebration. A friend approached her, saying she could get Hales a booth at the new Salt Lake Comic Convention that year, and asked her, was she in?
"I said yes, and then got off the phone and had to Google what a comic con was," Hales said laughing.
Hales created custom Star Wars, Spider-Man and Batman truffles for the convention, which sold out the first day. She spent the next two days handcrafting truffles around the clock, while her husband, Paul, and a friend shuttled the chocolates to and from the con and manned the booth there. They consistently sold out.
Hales knew they'd hit upon something unique, and she signed on to the FanX convention that year. She then started doing the convention circuit.
"That was the beginning of Truffle Cottage, and we're still doing cons," she said.
Hales and her small team are now a regular presence at fan conventions in Utah, Washington state, Texas, Colorado, California, Florida and Canada. After rounds of nonstop crafting, she regularly carries thousands of chocolate pieces to each convention.
Not only have her truffles been eagerly snatched up by the cosplay hordes, but she even has a few celebrities among her fan base, including: Alex Kingston of "ER" and "Doctor Who" fame, Catherine Tate also of "Doctor Who" and "The Office," and Matthew Lewis of the "Harry Potter" films. She even has her own sweet Carrie Fisher tale.
Toward the end of a Portland, Oregon, fan convention, Fisher was walking by Hales' Truffle Cottage booth with her entourage, when she stopped.
"She said, 'I will take all of the Han Solos in Carbonite,' then she went on. Her handlers gathered them all up and paid for them," Hales said.
To honor Fisher's death last year, Hales sold special Millennium Falcons, lightsabers, Death Stars, and of course, Han Solo truffles. Her "Star Wars" collection continues to be a favorite in online sales through thetrufflecottage.com and at conventions.
Hales is a masterful inventor of sorts, and her medium is creamy chocolate. Her Death Star truffles are highly detailed, hollow chocolate spheres housing toffee balls. Her "Game of Thrones" dragon eggs house a baby dragon inside their shells. She's created drones for BYUtv's newest series, "Extinct," and sonic screwdrivers for the BBC. Locally, she created chocolate rebar for a Western States Rebar business event.
"We really can do anything in chocolate," she adds.
From conventions, the Truffle Cottage branched into the corporate world, and her truffles have recently graced the table of almost every major business summit in Utah. Her team monograms summit logos, titles or phrases on truffles of all sizes and flavors.Comment on this story
Though her focus is on appearance, Hales has not forgotten about flavor. If her truffles didn't taste good, she explains, people wouldn't keep coming back, and she wouldn't continue to sell out.
Hales hoped to open a Pleasant Grove storefront in November so she could have fresh product always on hand for her online orders, but construction delays set that plan back. She plans to hold a grand opening for the space in time for Valentine's Day.
"It's a very taxing business but very rewarding," Hales said during a recent break during her holiday season culinary crafting. "The Truffle Cottage has been to some interesting places."