Mary Ann O'Brien, founder of Lily O'Briens Irish chocolatier, scours the globe for the perfect ingredients for her chocolate.
The organic beans from Ecuador, the cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast and the dark chocolate beans from Costa Rica are just some of the magic used to create the Lily O’Brien’s collections.
The international flavors in Lily O'Briens chocolates are what makes them so delectable.
The next stop on the map for the chocolatier: the U.S.
Lily O’Briens had its U.S. debut on Monday, March 16 when it opened a flagship chocolate café and store at Bryant Park in New York City.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, who was in town on official business, stopped by to sample some of the goodies.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the café unleashed its luxury and decadence on all sweet-toothed New Yorkers under the watchful eyes of Mary Ann O'Brien and operations manager (and partner) Cathal Queally.
Lily O'Briens' mouthwatering chocolate had a romantic beginning. Mary Ann O'Brien started making bits of chocolate in the kitchen of her modest countryside home in Co. Kildare in 1992 with just two pans and a trusty wooden spoon. The only help she received was from her young daughter, Lily, chief chocolate taster and now company namesake.
Although her gut told her she was on to something good back in 1992, O’Brien admits that she “didn’t have any great master plan.”
She began selling her edible products locally to the hairdressers and supermarkets.
Irish people were very impressed. They came back for more. The first year in business, O'Brien made €2,000 selling chocolate from her kitchen.
A well-known business family from Co. Wexford, the Queallys (Cathal Queally is O’Brien’s partner), back O'Brien because they shared her taste for high-quality chocolate production.
It was a great match from the start. “My strengths are my passion and my creativity but my weakness is business management,” admitted O’Brien adding that that partnership she has with Queally is a great compliment.
And O’Brien’s passion is made evident by the great lenghts (literally) she'll go to obtain the perfect cocoa beans.
Just recently she took a jet up the Amazon in search of the finest cocoa pod, knowing that it would be essential to her collection.
“It’s all about where the beans are from and how they’re roasted," she said.
Today, O’Brien’s business has a state of the art center of culinary chocolate excellence in Newbridge, Co. Kildare, which employs 120 people and has an annual turnover over €20 million. The company produces over 180 varieties of chocolate - 60 tons a week - and only 15 percent of the production is sold in Ireland.
Now, 16 years on (Lily is now 19), Lily’s has made a name for itself across Europe and looks forward to breaking the American market.
The New York cafe features the full range of Lily O’Brien’s: 60 types of boxed chocolate, individual chocolate sweets and their signature hot chocolate drinks based on a special combination of signature molten dark, organic and/or milk chocolate dribbled from a blending kettle and topped with hazelnut, orange peel and/or marshmallow, among others.
O’Brien, who was awarded Image (Ireland's biggest selling Irish women's monthly magazine) Businesswoman of the Year in 2007, begins her day every day with a sampling of her chocolate.
“It’s part of the job,” she smiles guilty free.
Prices for the chocolates range from 60 to 80 cents for an individual chocolate to $4 to $5 for bars, $16 for a boxed collection of 18 and $45 for a selection of 50.