Take a novel idea and a new college degree, add some self-confidence, a sense of adventure and an unwavering appreciation for the funnier side of life and, if you're Erinlea McGowan-Moniz, you get Hot Chocolate (509 Dumaine St., 588-9050).
The French Quarter shop, which opened four days before Mardi Gras, features chocolate on lollipops, in sculptures, atop cakes and in other forms -- all molded into the shapes of human sex organs. It caters to the fun loving, but it's best to leave your inhibitions at the door and get into the spirit. Visits are accented with spontaneous bursts of embarrassed giggles as shoppers discover the myriad displays of both men and women's genitalia, breasts and more.
"What I've found is that everything is funny," McGowan-Moniz says. "Nothing goes too far. Occasionally we get people in who get embarrassed, but it's all in good fun and people enjoy it."
Consistently good sellers are the chocolate confections and cakes, which are cooked by France's bakery and decorated in the store. There are themed cakes to celebrate birthdays, new babies, new jobs, divorces and for bachelor and bachelorette parties. It's not the kind of cake you'd bring out for dessert at a family party, but it's great fun at adult parties. "Bachelorette parties are big for us right now," the business owner says, "but [the demand] changes at different times," depending on holidays and what groups of tourists are in town.
In addition to candy and cakes, the shop offers several styles of T-shirts with the phrase "Bead Whore," on the front, an item McGowan-Moniz picked up by happenstance when stocking the shop. "We opened the store the Friday before Mardi Gras," she says. "I had never been to Mardi Gras and really didn't know what it was all about, but we sold out of the 'Bead Whore' shirts in three days. They've been consistently popular every since." Not only did she not fully understand Mardi Gras, she hardly knew the city when she established her business. Like many other visitors, McGowan-Moniz visited New Orleans once and decided she wanted to live here.
After completing a degree in sculpture, she moved from Boston, found an apartment in the French Quarter as well as a storefront down the street. "I worked in a store like this all through college in Boston," she says. "It just seemed like a good idea. My boyfriend and I came here for a weekend a year before and that was all it took. We knew we wanted to move here."
It's not all about food and T-shirts. Hot Chocolate also stocks a range of products such as kama sutra oils, glow-in-the-dark "pecker" earrings, pin-the-breast-on-the-chest games (as well as one focusing on the male anatomy), blow-up party companions, a honeymoon lovers' kit, inflatable "love" dolls, "fundie undies for two," edible fashions and a host of other toys and novelties.
When it comes to chocolate, there are several standard body-part shapes, but there also are such unusual items as a pink chocolate heart-shaped box with "Eat Your Heart Out" engraved on the top and a surprise sculpture inside that won't be revealed here. McGowan-Moniz concocts the confections herself in the shop.
"I make them here. We use Nestle's chocolate and mold it into the shapes. I have a degree in sculpture; it comes in handy. I have to use it for something."
Many of Hot Chocolate's walk-in customers are tourists looking for novel souvenirs and experiences, but most of the cake orders and party supply sales come from locals who have heard about the shop from friends. Recently, the entrepreneur was selected to supply sweets for the Southern Decadence press party held at Oz.
"Business is good," McGowan-Moniz says. "We don't have that many 'regular' customers, but we do get return business for parties." Interestingly, although walk-in customers are pretty well split among the genders, when it comes to the novelty baked goods, the owner says women take the cake in terms of ordering them for parties.
For this young entrepreneur, capitalizing on an idea and a dream with an optimistic attitude toward success and the world's capacity for humor has yielded her just -- and chocolaty -- desserts.