We feel the same about our family as we feel about our
chocolate: we can never have too much of it. Here’s a
taste of some of our favorite family stories.
MEET THE AIGNERS
We feel the same about our family as we feel about our
There’s an old German expression, “Show your chocolate side” (Schokoladenseite zeigen), which means to only see the good side of things. As we tell you what it’s like to be part of the Aigner family of chocolatiers, we’ll try our best not to sugarcoat our story. But we are Aigners, after all, and coating things with confections is our family tradition.”
- Christopher Aigner, 3rd Generation
The 1st Generation
When my grandfather, John Aigner, immigrated to this country, he brought with him his wife Katherine, his son Peter (my dad) and his passion for making chocolates. My grandfather had studied the chocolate craft back home in Austria and in Germany. So he landed a job at Krause’s Candy Kitchen, a German-owned chocolate shop in a German enclave of Queens, New York. The owner retired a few years later, and my grandparents bought the 30-year-old business and continued to make chocolates in the old style.
The 2nd Generation
I was about nine years old when my parents bought Krause's Candy Kitchen in Forest Hills. The confectionary shop was family run, and manufacturing was done entirely by hand. There was one big mixing machine and one employee, a chocolate hand-dipper named Josephine. Other than that, it was just my parents, grandparents and me. We lived above the shop, and I learned the confectionary trade by osmosis. Actually, my father said, “Get downstairs. There is no one who will teach you as thoroughly as your father.”
Dad worked in the family business through college and in between jobs in the travel industry. One of those jobs was with an airline in Copenhagen, which is where he met his future wife, my mom.
On a trip back home to New York, I had an opportunity to buy my parents’ competitor, another well-known German candy business. I bought Martha’s Candy Kitchen and traveled back and forth between Ridgewood, Queens and Copenhagen to court my girlfriend Pia.
Dating Peter was amazing, but it was a transatlantic relationship so sometimes it could be very hard. Peter made those times a little sweeter by sending me boxes and boxes of chocolate covered coconuts.
My parents were married in Copenhagen then moved to New York, where they made chocolate in the old style in their very own store.
Pia didn't have any fear or apprehension of her new life in New York. She learned quickly, and with her interior decorating skills, she transformed a boring, plain storefront into a fantasy wonderland. We were the most elegant chocolatiers on Long Island!
My first day in the store went like this. My husband said, “Selling chocolates is a piece of cake!" And out the door he went. I was alone in the store, nothing was priced, and I knew nothing about the register or about chocolate! When Peter came back later that day, I swore this would never happen again, and we spent the next week pricing, labeling and organizing the entire store.
The 3rd Generation
We were very happy living and working in our rundown, three-story, brick building. It eventually housed our entire family and hosted the arrival of our three children.
It was Thanksgiving Day and the store was filled with customers. I was about to give birth to our eldest son, Peter Christian, and there I was with my big belly, decorating the storefront windows for Christmas. That’s when my water broke. Peter panicked, announced that I was about to have the baby and cleared out the store! For years, customers have reminded us about throwing them out that day.
My brother Peter Christian, our sister Stephanie and I grew up making chocolate. We lived above the candy store. Our grandparents lived above us. On Saturday mornings, I'd wake up, run downstairs for a chocolate pop, then run back up two flights of stairs to watch cartoons with my grandmother. Life was good.
Then Dad would come upstairs and say, “What are you doing? You feel like coming into the store?” So while our friends were outside playing on Saturday, we might be in the candy kitchen. But it usually turned out to be pretty fun.
It never seemed like work to us. Dad would have the oldies station playing. We all decorated and laughed and sang along like we were the von Trapp family or something.
Our kids were always involved in our business. Sometimes reluctantly, but all hands were needed in the busy seasons. They learned a lot of valuable lessons that we’d like to think have shaped them into the wonderful adults they are today.
Some kids play team sports growing up. We were part of a family team. We worked as a family, and we ate as a family every night of my childhood. The lessons my parents taught us in the candy kitchen and around that dinner table made me who I am today. (I want to be just like my mom when I grow up!)
The kids grew up, went to college and started their own careers. That left Pia and me to run the family business, which had grown to include three stores.
It was time for us to slow down the pace and enjoy life a bit more after a lifetime of making chocolate, so we sold our stores. When Peter’s father retired, Peter and I decided to turn our focus to Krause’s, the original family business.
Growing up in a family business is something that never leaves you. After working in finance for a few years, I was ready to get back to my roots, back to the business.
With the third generation of Aigner chocolatiers overseeing day-to-day operations, it was time to retire the original name of the store and put our own family’s signature on the door. For a family that values time-honored traditions the way ours does, that was probably the biggest break from tradition we’d made here in 60 years.
I’d talked about doing this since I was a kid. Somehow it’s come full circle, and I finally understand that making chocolates truly is an art. Every time I see my dad pouring a jelly or scooping out something, I think, “Wow, this is really a beautiful thing we do.”