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February 2000
Sweet dreams
By Max Weiss

If Albert Kirchmayr had taken the time to consider the Berger cookie, he might never have opened his little gourmet chocolate shop on Charles Street. Think about it: The Berger cookie, Baltimore’s beloved dessert tradition, is a small, nondescript cookie coated in a too-sweet, amorphous blob of something resembling fudge. What sits perched atop a Berger cookie may look like chocolate. It may, if evaluated under a microscope in a lab, have similar properties to chocolate. But it is not chocolate. At least not the kind of chocolate that Albert Kirchmayr sells.

Luckily for us, 12 years ago,  Albert Kirchmayr did not consider the Berger cookie. Instead, the young German chef, who had arrived in Baltimore 12 years earlier, remembered his childhood. He remembered how, in Munich, you could go to a chocolate store and buy a piece of hand-made candy. You would see them stirring a big vat of dark velvet in the back of the shop and you would smell the chocolate ---truffles dusted in powdered sugar, mocha-filled chocolates with an artful ribbon of white chocolate on top, dark-chocolate-covered hazelnuts.

In Baltimore, you could get a Hershey’s Bar or Nestle Bar --- these things were affronts! --- or you could go to one of the old-school sweets shops where you buy Pecan Sandies and Nonpareils. That was okay, but it just wasn’t the same.

Albert Kirchmayr saw an opening. He didn’t think to himself: People in Baltimore aren’t sophisticated enough for fine European chocolate. He didn’t think to himself: These people, they actually want their chocolate to be bland and stale and sugary. He thought: This is what I loved as a child and Baltimore will love it, too.

“My friends said I was crazy,” he chuckles.

At first, Kirchmayr sold his candy only to hotels and department stores. But too many people would spy the “chocolatier” sign and rap on his office window, looking for sweet things. So he converted part of the office into a shop and quietly started a retail business. When customers tasted a Kirchmayr chocolate, they were stunned: It was good, great even. Better, perhaps, than Godiva, the big Dutch chocolatier with its money and its reputation and its famously delicious Euro-sweets.

Kirchmayr knew that his candy could stand up to Godiva. After all, it’s fresher. He makes it all day, five days a week, in his shop. And it’s got that irreplaceable local touch. Kirchmayr knows all his regular customers and their chocolate secrets--- that they always keep a fresh box in their desk drawer, that they bring boxes of chocolate to parties in the hope that the host will crack open the gift.

And he was right. People have made it their habit. Not just on special occasions like Easter and Valentine’s Day. But as part of the ritual of everyday life.

When you consider it, this is happening all over town these days. Baltimore has learned to embrace life’s fancier things without forsaking the beloved, if less refined, flavors that it grew up with. Now, side by side, we have our Natty Boh no-frills suds and our DeGroen’s Marzen. We have our bottomless cup of diner joe from Jimmy’s and our double latte from the Daily Grind. We have our spongy H&S Bakery white and our crusty Stone Mill Bakery semolina boule.

And we have our Beger cookies ---God bless them--- and our exquisite truffles from Mr. Kirchmayr.

“The children come into my shop and I give them a piece of candy,” says Kirchmayr, somewhat dreamily. “And that’s what they’re going to remember. That’s what they’re growing up with.”

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