For Nancy Tabbara, making sweets is more than a business; it’s a connection to the past.
A native of Lebanon, she launched Tabbara Artisan Chocolate three years ago based on recipes from the Beirut confectionery her husband’s family opened in the 1950s.
“It’s sentimental,” she says. “As a first-generation immigrant, I have nostalgia about the business back home.”
Inside her production facility at The XFactory in Point Breeze, she’s creating treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious; tiny works of art made with high-quality ingredients and a lot of love.
The chocolatier has more than 30 varieties available online and at various spots throughout the city, including Glassworks and Cheeks in Shadyside, Feast on Brilliant in Aspinwall, Squirrel Hill’s The Chocolate Moose and Mediterra Café locations in Sewickley and Mt. Lebanon.
Customers can travel across oceans and time with a nine-piece assortment of classic bites like the ones sold in Beirut a half-century ago. It includes dark- and milk chocolate-covered almonds, hazelnuts, dates and orange peels.
Tabbara is always experimenting in the kitchen with simple, so there is a rotating variety of truffles, bonbons and other melt-in-your mouth delights flavored with everything from Amaretto liqueur and coriander to pistachio and passion fruit.
The Beirut business operates on a much smaller scale these days but in the 1950s, when the city was a cultural and culinary hot spot, the chocolates were a status symbol. Locals celebrated holidays and major milestones with the hand-crafted treats. A civil war that erupted in Lebanon in 1975 slowed the sugar rush but didn’t stop it.
When Tabbara and her husband first came to the U.S. in 2007, they settled in Washington state, which wasn’t the right fit for a cosmopolitan chocolate company. A job opportunity brought the couple to Pittsburgh which, they felt, was a literal sweet spot.
The city already had a strong confection heritage thanks to institutions like Betsy Ann Chocolates and Sarris Candies. Tabbara knew Pittsburgh’s melting pot population would gobble up a different spin on the desserts.
The family’s legacy is already becoming a tasty tradition in Pittsburgh households. Easter goodies sold out quickly and folks are using the chocolates — which come in white and gold boxes tied with a ribbon — as wedding favors.
As the business grows, Tabbara wants to open a storefront in a neighborhood with a lot of foot traffic. She’s certain window shoppers will stop in their tracks when they see her artistic treats on display.