By Deb Silverthorn
It doesn’t get much sweeter than the smell that wafts as you walk through the Lovers Lane headquarters of JK Chocolate, with thousands of itty-bitty Microchip cookies and gallons of sauces readily teasing every palate.
The hands, hearts and initials behind JK Chocolate — the “J,” Julie Tobolowsky, and “K,” Karleen Kusin — have been the secret recipe behind their minuscule treats for more than 20 years.
“We had a party of ‘little’ items, tiny sandwiches and such, and we wondered how small a cookie could be with only one chip. It was great, so we partnered that with our yummy sauce and through the years found our passion,” said Tobolowsky, in whose home the baking started. “We went from our kitchen and bunches to this store and personalized packages for weddings and b’nai mitzvah. It’s been a lot of hard work but we have loved it all along.”
With eight children between them, meaning lots of thank-you gifts for teachers and friends, and corporate gifts through their husbands’ businesses, handmade gifts were the way to go. Both ladies’ minds were filled with kitchen memories of their own mothers and grandmothers, so they recreated those and made more with their own children and grandchildren stirring, packing and wrapping. Their families, space and staff have grown, now providing strong and repeat individual and corporate, simcha- and event-based clientele.
Tobolowsky is the daughter of Barbara and Donald Zale. A lifelong member of Temple Emanu-El, she is the wife of George, the mother of Adam, Kathryn (Keith), Laura (Jonas) and Robert, and grandmother of Clare, Jack, Sam and Vivian. She has served on the boards of Temple Emanu-El and The Greenhill School, and with sister-in-law Myra Prescott, she is co-inventor of “Clothes and GO,” clothing transport tool.
Kusin, a San Antonio native and the daughter of Estelle and Jack Kaufman (of blessed memory), was raised at Congregation Beth El. A graduate of Emory University and St. Mary’s Law School, she is married to Gary, the mother of Ben (Marina), Caroline (Tavita), Elizabeth (David) and Eric (Irene), and grandmother of Afi, Kaia, Preston, Stella, and Sydney. A former board member of National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Vogel Alcove, touching organizations that touch children, is at her core.
To that end, JK Chocolate regularly donates to schools and organizations, including this year’s NCJW Birthday Luncheon.
“I have great childhood memories and now I love being a client and bringing my own kids in to taste. It’s my ‘go-to’ gift,” said Courtney Jones Johnson, a Kusin childhood friend. This year’s NCJW chair, she was thrilled that Tobolowsky and Kusin shared more than 250 NCJW blue and green bags. “It was a great way to thank donors, and we couldn’t be more appreciative of their support. As moms who turned talent into business, they’re a wonderful example.”
Dominique Miller, a preschool teacher for all of the Kusin and Tobolowsky children, remembers receiving the gifts “back in the day,” and remains close to the families. The Tobolowsky daughters were in her wedding, and some of the next generation are now her students. The flavors now, and her respect for the creators, are stronger than ever.
“This was and is always the best holiday treat, the best anytime treat,” Miller said. “The teachers always said they should turn this around, and most people hear that and it’s the end. Julie and Karleen did it.”
Joining the Original Chocolate sauce and the Original Chocolate Chip Microchip Cookie are Ahhh Raspberry, Caramel with Sea Salt, Peanut Butter Sauce, Sooo Espresso, Triple Peppermint gourmet sauce, Roasted Peanut Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Mini Mint Microchip, Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Microchip, Cheddar Cheesies Microchip, Cowboy Choc-Oat-Chip Microchip, Six-Spice Gingersnap Microchip, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Microchip, Midnight Chocolate Chip Microchip, Peanut Butter with Sea Salt Microchip, Pecan Sweeties Microchip, Snickerdoodle Microchip, and Rainbow Sugar Microchip cookies.
For Purim gifts and during holidays around the calendar, the bakers are constantly bringing seasonal flavors: Gingersnap and Chocolate Mint in the fall, and Lemon Lime Zesty, White Chocolate Chip and Macadamia in the spring. February add-ons include Red Velvet and Decadent Chocolate 6-inch-round Microcakes and, while not certified “kosher,” JK also makes an Almond Coconut micro-macaroon cookie close to Passover.
“Gary and George are our best advisers, never allowing us to overpromise and always behind us,” said Kusin. “We’re always in the kitchen, hairnets on, and only two others know our recipes. We’re all in and we love it.”
Tastes and smiles are free at the North Dallas store, open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The website allows shipping anywhere, and JK Chocolate recently joined Amazon Prime, their originals now possible in the hands of loved ones overnight.
“Whether in a tin or a ‘pill box,’ the perfect prescription for a tough day, our customers love that they can stop in and pick up a package ready to give,” said Tobolowsky.
“It’s wrapped with a smile. You can be in and out and have the best gift in minutes. You can also stick around and taste, and taste and taste,” said Kusin, her and her partner’s personalities visible throughout the store, down to the “Happy” napkins on which samples are shared.
JK Chocolate is located at 4710 West Lovers Lane, Dallas. For more information, visit jkchocolate.com.