The interior of the small store may seem plain, but add display cases filled with decadent truffles and candies piled high with all sizes of heart-shaped boxes, and suddenly nothing said Valentine’s Day more than Mignon Chocolate in Pasadena.
I sometimes go into See’s Candy and elbow my way to a display case or buy a cellophaned box of candy.
But, there was something special about picking out a truffle and saying “I’ll take one of those. and one of those,” and then watching manager Sandra Awakian place it delicately in a ring-sized, heart-shaped red box, which might — depending on size — hold exactly four truffles, perhaps one rose water pistachio, one pomegranate, one blueberry and maybe one champagne.
Or perhaps, imagine the thrill of picking out truffles five at a time; or taking home a heart-shaped box holding 60 truffles (“I’ll take five of those, and five of those, and keep going until you get to 60.”)
And to think that you’re buying from the same family that once tickled the taste buds of royalty.
That’s what I felt last week when I first entered Mignon, nestled next to other small shops at 6 Holly St. in Pasadena. There’s also a larger Mignon store at 936 Brand St. in Glendale, which is where I talked by phone to Joe Terpoghossian, a third-generation chocolatier.
And no time makes Terpoghossian or his customers happier than in the weeks before Valentine’s Day.
“It’s crazy. It’s the single busiest day of the year,” Terpoghossian said. “On Valentine’s Day, everyone is a chocolate lover. Every year, we try to plan ahead and still every year, some flavors sell out faster than others.”
Don’t you hate those procrastinators who don’t plan ahead far enough to snap up one of those 55-60 flavors of truffles or candies that are waiting in the display cases?
As if the variety of truffles weren’t confusing enough, there are trays of “turtles” — nuts covered with caramel and then bathed in dark or light chocolate; light or dark chocolate bark; squares of candy; and candy squares, which are wrapped in paper with messages celebrating everything from weddings to birthdays.
And, if that didn’t boggle my mind, there were two “Mikado” Cakes. How’s this for decadent? The cakes are wafers filled with cream chocolate covered by dark chocolate and then decorated with a design. All this — complete with calories — for $50.
There is even a tabletop fountain that spurts dark or light chocolate. Awakian said that these are becoming popular at “Galentine Day Parties.”
During most of the year, it’s women who are the candy buyers by a margin of 70-30. But Terpoghossian said that percentage flips around Valentine’s Day.
If you aren’t watching your wallet any more than your weight, you can get a 60-piece box for $155. Awakian said one of the biggest sellers is the 30-piece box or heart that sells for $79.
Every day, hundreds of boxes of chocolates arrive from the Mignon factory in Van Nuys to restock the shelves in preparation for that day’s sales.
But, every year, by Valentine’s Day, someone is going to come in and be disappointed.
So, if you want to be on time to buy one of the top Valentine’s Day sellers — such as strawberry hearts, champagne lips and passion fruits — you better start ordering now, either by stopping at one of the Mignon stores or by placing an order online.
“As it gets closer to Valentine’s Day, people will buy whatever we have, even if we are running out of their favorites,” said Awakian, who said she hates the look of disappointment that settles on a face when she has to say a favorite was here today, but is on its way to be eaten tomorrow.
She offered me a sample — and I would have been satisfied with just about anything in the case, truffle or otherwise. But I chose a blueberry truffle and the taste did not disappoint.
“Mignon chocolate uses the freshest and best possible ingredients,” Terpoghossian said. “We choose to follow our family original recipes with minor modifications without adding or utilizing any chemicals or preservatives to prolong the shelf life of our creations. Our chocolates are kept in temperature and humidity controlled coolers to provide the best possible environment to store and display our chocolates.”
I tried to be objective, but for me, it’s hard to be objective about chocolate. I liked the dark chocolate orange peels best, and bought a bag for myself.
What I loved about Awakian is how she described a new customer who might wander into the Pasadena or Glendale store.
“They come in here and they look at me and say, ‘What’s that smell?’” she said. (It’s the chocolate.)
“Some people take their time and want to look at each and every truffle. I tell them to take their time if you need a minute and I’ll even give them a free sample.”
The candy isn’t all that put me into a Valentine state of mind. There are the boxes — stacked on shelves two-thirds up one wall and decorating the front window. Heart-shaped boxes of all sizes from satiny red to a lacy white design on a red back round. There are thin rectangular boxes with bows and multi-colored bigger rectangles with bows.
But what’s a Mignon heart box without chocolate, and chocolate is what the Terpoghossian family has been all about since the 1910 when the family first began selling bakery goods and sweets in Ukraine.
The family later moved to Tehran where it opened a bakery in 1935. The Shah of Iran was so enamored of the sweets that his family made weekly trips to the family shop for treats.
The Glendale store has been in existence for more than 30 years, and the Pasadena store for 15. Since then, Mignon’s popularity has spread through word of mouth. Joe Terpoghossian started in the family business when he was a child and came to America when he was a teenager. He’s only been back to Iran once since then.
“We get people who come in on vacation and say that they have heard about this candy store, and they want to come in and try some,” Awakian said. “During the pandemic, when people were ordering online, our business did better because people googled ‘chocolates’ and found our website. We encourage people to order online and we also do DoorDash delivery.”
Awakian said that in the past three years, she’s noticed an increase in the number of customers from the Asian community and Terpoghossian said that the Glendale store serves a large Persian and Armenian community, some of whom remember the store in Tehran.
Valentine’s Day, Terpoghossian admits, isn’t a very romantic time at his house.
“I’m off to work before my wife gets up and she’s usually asleep by the time I get home. We have our Valentine’s Day the weekend after the holiday,” he laughed.
“My wife is not a flower or candy lover. I spoil her with a lobster and steak dinner.”
Editor’s Note: Mignon Chocolate in Glendale is located at 936 N. Brand Blvd., (818) 549-9600. Mignon in Pasadena is located at 6 Holly St., (626) 796-7100. The website is mignonchocolate.com.
Correction: In last week’s column, I mentioned that readers could go on tours to Taiwan organized by Abercrombie and Fitch. It should be Abercrombie and Kent.
First published in the February 2 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.