The Real-Life Willy Wonka Behind Those Classic Candy Hearts

geoff-bloomThe magic happens in a room with a giant tub that looks like Play-Doh, in a 810,000-square-foot factory, in a small city named after Paul Revere.

The New England Candy Company, better known as Necco, produces 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts — those colorful conversation hearts you got from everyone in your third-grade class on Valentine’s Day — each day for nearly the entire year, even though they’re only sold for several weeks in January and February. They’ve been around for decades — 150 years, to be exact — but Geoff Bloom, the creative director at Necco, is tasked with finding ways to keep them fresh. (“On Fleek” is one of the phrases you’ll find on the hearts this year.)

Valentine’s Day, a one-day holiday to you but a six-week one to Necco, is the company’s biggest moneymaker; about 2 billion Sweethearts are eaten each year. But none of that would be possible without Bloom’s careful touch.

Continue reading

The Duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel

"It's not a very subtle outfit, but it's not a very subtle job," says Anthony Petrina, who has been the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel for about three years.

“It’s not a very subtle outfit, but it’s not a very subtle job,” says Anthony Petrina, the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel.

“I never thought you could get a condescending look from a duck, but as it turns out, you definitely can,” Anthony Petrina explains.

He remembers the day clearly: It was his second week on the job as the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, and he thought he was doing a pretty damn good job of marching those ducks down the red carpet in an orderly fashion. (It’s a twice-daily occurrence at the hotel that attracts hundreds, including names like Jimmy Carter, Oprah, an incognito Michael Jordan and Nicholas Cage.)

But he had pressed the wrong button on the elevator, and instead of opening into the lobby, Petrina was greeted by an open expanse of balcony. The five mallards turned around and just looked at him – the duck equivalent of major side-eye.

Along with his assistant duckmaster, a retired hotel veteran, Petrina oversees the decades-old, now-famous Peabody Duck March – and the care and keeping of the ducks. He can even see the duck palace on the roof of the Peabody from the window of his apartment down the street. “I can literally keep an eye on them at all hours,” he says, “though that’s probably taking the job a little too far.”

Continue reading

The Latte Artist

Jessica Bertin

Jessica Bertin, the administrator of Joe Ed classes, subsists on just one or two cups of coffee a day – a shot of espresso here, a sip of cappuccino there, to test quality control.

“Skim milk. The bane of our existence.”

Jessica Bertin sits in the corner of the Joe Coffee store she manages on New York City’s Upper East Side, eyeing the Sunday morning crowd as the sun streams in. Every large latte with skim order makes the baristas cringe — the thinness of nonfat milk makes it nearly impossible to create the store’s crisp signature Rosetta design.

Joe Coffee, a family-owned business that opened in 2003, has several branches across New York City and Philadelphia. Bertin trains baristas and runs Joe’s public education program, which includes a smattering of about a dozen classes — ones focused on espresso and manual brewing ($60 for two hours) to lectures on direct trade versus fair trade. Then there are the full-day barista workshops ($225 for seven hours) and 16-hour one-week courses, which never fail to sell out. But one of Bertin’s most impressive areas of expertise is  latte art — which, for the record, is much harder than it looks.

Continue reading

The Pizza Box Connoisseur

Photo: Michael Berman

“People are surprised I’m not 600 pounds,” laughs Scott Wiener, who runs a pizza company. Photo: Michael Berman

To the average American, a pizza box is a disposable, oily compilation of cardboard, taking up room in the fridge until the last slice is gone. But to Scott Wiener, a pizza box is a work of art. That’s why he holds the Guinness World Record for largest collection of pizza boxes.

Wiener eats, lives, and breathes pizza. During the day, he runs a pizza tour company, taking groups of tourists to 40 different pizzerias around New York City on a yellow school bus. But the job takes a lot of research, he says. “It’s not just waking up, eating pizza, and getting a paycheck.” 

Nearly six years, 1,500 tours and over 25,000 tour guests later, Wiener is planning a traveling art show featuring pizza boxes around the world, from Brooklyn to Austin, Tex., to the rest of the world. Below, he reveals the country that uses the world’s most intelligent pizza box (not America), how to order pizza the right way, and where his love for dough, red sauce, and cheese first began.

Continue reading

The Confetti Master of Times Square on New Year’s Eve

"I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row," says Treb Heining (far right, in red). Here, he celebrates the beginning of 2011 with the crowd.

“I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row,” says Treb Heining (far right, in red), who has also orchestrated the balloons at the Academy Awards and many Super Bowls and political conventions.

After the champagne has been chugged and the 6-ton ball has been cleared, millions of tiny flecks of colored paper coat the pavement of Times Square in New York City.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For the past 22 years, precisely 20 seconds before the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, Treb Heining stands perched over the railing outside the Minskoff Theater, ready for go time. He holds a radio close to his lips. “Go confetti,” he declares coolly, just loud enough for the 70 someodd people at eight different buildings towering over the center of Times Square to hear him over the din of the whooping crowds below. Then, for almost 60 seconds straight, Heining and the rest of his confetti dispersal battalion heave 3,000 pounds of confetti out of large brown boxes and into the air. It’s officially New Year’s in Times Square.

Continue reading

The Running Concierge

When Heuisler tells fellow runners about his job, they typically respond with, "Are they hiring more?"

When Heuisler tells fellow runners about his job, they typically respond with, “Are they hiring more?”

Once a month – and more often during prime running months, like March, September, October and November – Chris Heuisler runs marathons across North America. For work.

Heuisler was hired as Westin Hotels’ first running concierge in August, beating out more than 1,000 applicants for the job. During marathons from Denver to Savannah to Montreal, he sits at a desk in the Westin lobby about 10 feet from the regular concierge desk, catering to the needs of some 50 to 75 guests who are there specifically to run. He sees those guests again on the trail – where he’s handing out extra earbuds, Band-Aids and sunglasses – and at the finish line, where he’s the recipient of plenty of sweaty hugs.

Hotels hiring specialty concierges to enhance the guest experience is a fairly new concept. In New Orleans, the Ritz-Carlton offers the services of a “recovery concierge” for guests after a rough night; at select Rosewood Hotels, a fragrance butler will bring various perfumes and colognes to your hotel room on a silver platter at any hour. But to Westin’s knowledge, no other hotels have a resident running concierge.

Continue reading

The Sign Language Interpreter

Lydia Callis signingLast October, Lydia Callis – who has been signing her entire life – found herself tongue-tied. As she stood beside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, her face – and hands – were broadcast onto millions of TV sets, breaking the news about utter destruction that was sweeping  Manhattan in the form of Hurricane Sandy. She racked her brain for a visual equivalent of the loose crane trembling at the Freedom Tower.

Callis, 30, grew up interpreting for her mother and three deaf siblings, and signing was her first language. After coming to terms with signing as her destiny, she founded an interpreting program, LC Interpreting Services, and now works as a freelance interpreter. But the hurricane made her realize she has an even greater purpose: to improve life for the deaf community in New York, where she says conditions leave much to be desired.

Continue reading