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February 17, 2012

Chocolate as a Lifestyle

by June Soh

For many people, chocolate is a guilty pleasure. For sisters Frances and Ginger Park, Korean Americans, it's sweet success.  They opened Washington's first gourmet chocolate shop more than a quarter century ago. In addition to running their shop, they have published award winning books embracing their family's roots and the American Dream.

Cecilia Perry has been coming to this shop, Chocolate Chocolate, almost every day for years.

"[I come here often] because they have the best chocolate in the entire region," said Perry.

Esther Alpert comes in a couple of times a week.

"It is just so sweet and pleasant to be here.  We love these guys, and I think it is the best chocolate in the city," Alpert added.

Offering the best chocolate from around the world is what Frances and Ginger Park had in mind when they opened the first independent chocolate shop in the nation's capital 28 years ago.  

"We grew up on some very fine chocolate because our dad worked for the World Bank and would bring back European chocolate in suitcases when we were very young," said Frances Park.

When their father died in his mid-50s, the sisters grew closer and decided to go into business together.

"But we did not know what we were doing and we definitely ate more chocolate than we sold that first year," Frances Park added.  "But we learned one thing we did was we sort of over time created family with our customers."

That family has grown and includes long-time customers like Beth Smith.  

"I have been coming here for a long time, probably 20 years," noted Smith.  "She remembers the birth of my daughter.  She remembers all the, you know, I feel like family here."

Sales have increased over the decades and, today, this little shop has four staff members... including Ginger's husband and a manager.

"It is a huge success," said Ginger Park.  "I mean certainly not on the level of Donald Trump, but for us it is a huge success. We wanted to build a life around our business and that is what we did."   

The Park sisters also wanted to feed their literary side. They've co-authored eight books for children and adults. Their first, award-winning book, My Freedom Trip, is based on their mother's escape from North Korea when she was a teenager.

"We wanted to write the book as a tribute to our mother and her mother, and also perhaps to give children an idea of the price that other people had pay for freedom," said Frances Park. 

The Park sisters also published a memoir that chronicles their quarter century behind the chocolate counter.

FRANCES PARK: "It is actually about the ups and downs of two sisters who have always been very close, who went from being very young girls to being not very young girls, but still smiling."

GINGER PARK: "Everyone who comes into our shop tells us you have the perfect life, and we say yes, you know what, we do, we really do.  They go hand in hand, books and chocolate."

For the Park sisters, their little shop is packed not only with chocolate, but also with memories.