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Originally published Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 08:10a.m.

Wine lovers love chocolate.

That’s why Michael Portnoy has opened Gayle’s Chocolates -- a company previously based in Michigan -- in Cottonwood this past week.

Portnoy said the popularity of the local wine industry is one reason he opened the already successful chocolate retail and production facility on North Main Street with his wife, Andrea, and son, Louis.

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Michael Portnoy, left, and son Louis pose for a photo at the new Gayle's Chocolates retail and production facility in Cottonwood. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Portnoy, of Sedona, hopes to take advantage of the popularity of the two dozen wine-tasting rooms that have opened up in the Verde Valley in recent years.

The overwhelming aroma of chocolate is obvious when walking through the entrance of the new business. Custom-made chocolates shaped in everything from ladies’ high-heels to cowboy boots to motorcycles adorn the store.

In the spirit of a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s factory, Portnoy has a window from which visitors have a portal view to his candy factory where nine full- and part-time employees have the sweetest job in town.

One woman who worked in the back room was seen wearing a white scrub hat rolling chocolate balls for truffles, while joking about the famous I Love Lucy episode where the comedienne could not keep up with the candy factory’s conveyor belt.

Portnoy said he purchased Gayle’s Chocolates from Gayle Harte, who started making chocolates in a saucepan over a stove in her home in Royal Oak, Michigan, almost 40 years ago.

Harte closed her 34-year-old business in Royal Oak – a suburb of Detroit – a year ago. Portnoy assumed the retail business, production, as well as the internet presence at www.gayleschocolates.com . He has put in a kiosk for internet orders and boxes are stacked up for shipping at the Cottonwood store located at 541 N. Main Street.

They opened the store in Cottonwood Monday, Portnoy said, and started production the week prior.

Harte will remain as a consultant to the business.

Harte’s artisan chocolates were hand-crafted and all ingredients are natural, Harte said in an earlier interview. “We never use artificial chocolate,” she said.

“We have special molds of several different animals, shoes, cars,” explained Portnoy. “We have piñata chocolates.”

Customers are surprised by the uniqueness of the molded chocolates, Portnoy said, referring to “all the different shapes, and animals and cars. We have an Eifel Tower. We have a slot machine.”

The store also has three unique chocolate recipes that Harte copyrighted. One of them is called “Vortex Crunch,” he said.

“She (Gayle) decided to get into the business when she couldn’t find anybody to make some chocolate the way she liked it,” he said. “So she decided to open up her own business back in 1979. Obviously she’s been a big success since she’s been open all this time."

“The reason I like Cottonwood is because of the wine country here in Cottonwood,” Portnoy continued. “I know how well wine and chocolate pair well together.

“I thought it would be a good mix to have a chocolate business here where there’s a lot of wine tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood,” he added. “I thought it would be a good mix.”

Portnoy said they are making chocolate five days a week, but the retail is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. for 4 p.m. He expects to extend hours during holidays.

Portnoy said the best time to see production through the viewing window is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., but that is also extended during the holidays because he says they get extremely busy from September to Easter.

“That’s the busy season of the chocolate business.”

Gayle’s Chocolates, 541 N. Main Street, Cottonwood; 888-761-COCO (2626).

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