Granddaughter to famed Pittsburgh area chocolatier Frank Sarris, Athena Sarris is carrying on the Sarris Candies name in all its glory. We sat down and chatted with Athena ahead of their biggest holiday yet—Easter. From meltaway eggs to 200-pound bunnies, we learned everything it takes to make this candy shop a sweet success.
PITTSBURGH BEAUTIFUL: What is Easter time like for you? Can you describe the mood/vibe of the shop?
ATHENA SARRIS: Easter is exciting, it’s a very exciting time of the year for us. It’s one of our biggest seasons, other than Christmas. We have so many special products we don’t make other times of the year, namely our one pound meltaway eggs and other egg flavors. We also have teaser eggs and bunny molds and everything is decorated by hand. We have 1,000s of chocolate novelties for everyone’s basket, even some based on interests like cooking and dancing.
PB: How are you carrying on the original vision of the shop?
AS: I’m Frank Sarris’s granddaughter and my father is Bill Sarris. We’re carrying on Frank’s vision by keeping the same quality, that’s always been our number one priority. People come to the shop for generations and enjoy the same chocolate and atmosphere. It’s important for us to keep the quality and integrity of the products. It’s important to keep things like the chocolate castle and ice cream parlor quality since it opened in the early ‘50s. We want it to be a place to go to spend the afternoon at the candy shop, get ice cream and get some chocolate, that’s what we strive to do.
PB: What is your most popular item in the ice cream shop?
AS: Just like the rest of the country, across the board, it seems to be vanilla, chocolate then strawberry at Sarris too. We do have other flavors like cookies and cream, peanut butter cookie dough and regular cookie dough, but many prefer our vanilla. A lot of customers like to put our milk or dark chocolate hard cap on top, which is kind of like a Magic Shell. You can’t go wrong with a vanilla sundae with a hard cap on it.
PB: What is your most popular Easter item?
AS: It’s a toss-up between eggs and bunnies, because Easter is about two things, eggs and bunnies. The peanut butter meltaway one-pound egg is our most popular and as far as chocolate bunnies go, we have them in two ounces to 200 pounds, whatever size you want we have it.
PB: How do you feel when Pittsburghers (and Pittsburghers who have since moved away) associate your candy shop with major holidays like Easter?
AS: We’re proud, proud of what we do and do what we love and people enjoy it—some enjoy it so much that when they move across the country they refuse to eat any chocolate except what we make. It is humbling. Pittsburghers in general are very loyal.
PB: Do you have any advice for those who want to start their own business?
AS: Ask a lot of questions! I still ask questions to my dad all the time. There’s never a dumb question to ask either. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as mistakes are how you grow. I still make mistakes, if you don’t make mistakes you aren’t doing anything. Also, surround yourself with good people.
PB: What can Sarris Candies lovers expect for the rest of the year as far as new items?
AS: We do have some new items and some things up our sleeve. It takes nine to 12 months to develop a new product and we have some in the developmental stages. There are a lot of steps to get a product from point A to point B. I do a lot of taste tasting.
PB: What’s the secret to Sarris’ creamy, rich chocolate?
AS: That’s a great question we get asked a lot! I certainly can’t divulge but definitely start with a quality bean and use quality ingredients from there.
PB: What do you think makes Pittsburgh so unique?
AS: I love Pittsburgh! One of the things that makes it so unique is that Pittsburghers are so loyal. I don’t think you find that in every city. I am truly proud to be from the area. Pittsburghers are loyal to what they love and products they love and where they grew up. It is truly something special.
PB: Finally, since our blog is called “Pittsburgh Beautiful,” how is Pittsburgh beautiful to you?
AS: I’m a foodie personally, so I love the restaurant scene. I have two children, so I enjoy Kennywood, the Aviary and Phipps. I love the cultural and food aspect and of course the sports teams too. Hockey and football are of course two other loves. Black and gold right?! Pittsburgh is truly special.
Don’t forget to give the gift of Sarris Candies to your loved ones this holiday. Or… you can just enjoy them yourself! Either way, they’re great, and a Pittsburgh tradition!