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Chocolate Cafe continues sweet tradition

Inside the Chocolate Bar Cafe, where sweets and chilled treats are at your fingertips, even the air seems sugarcoated.

The Grosse Pointe Woods eatery is dotted with nostalgia, from the black-and-white checkered floor to the old-fashioned soda fountain to the specialty ice cream and chocolates delivered almost daily from Alinosi's, Detroit's oldest confectioner, circa 1921.

The cafe, 20737 Mack Ave., was bought and renamed in December by Grosse Pointe Park mother of four Lisa Corbin, who introduced a complete espresso bar - featuring Illy coffee, a specialty Italian roast - to the menu and expanded the hours to meet the needs of the early morning crowd.

When the longtime cake decorator discovered that the formerly named Sara's Sweets was being sold, she took a leap of faith into what seemed like a natural fit. In addition to the name change and menu additions - which include tasty cupcakes and special-order cakes - Corbin also had a bit of remodeling on her plate, from the paint on the wall to expansion toward the rear of the cafe.

She also plans to display her vintage picture collection of Alinosi's bygone days - images of the founding family and its several locations, including the original East McNichols shop where men in hats and girls in frilly dresses sat upon silver and aquamarine stools lining a stainless-steel counter.

"Grandmothers come in to buy chocolates for their grandchildren. I have people say they used to walk or ride their bike to the McNichols store when they were young. It's something that's a tradition," Corbin said of the experience of her shop, which is now the only retail outlet where customers can purchase the coveted line of Italian sweets.

"There is such tradition here, where grandparents met at Alinosi's and used to date at Alinosi's, and then brought their children and grandchildren up on Alinosi's," said Vicky Moore, who once owned the store and now works for Corbin. "You just become such good friends with the customers that come in here. It's amazing when little kids come in and as they grow, their tastes change, so their favorite flavors change."

Alinosi's spumoni - an Italian delicacy of layered rum, pistachio and chocolate ice cream - is still made the old-fashioned way with 15 percent butterfat and is still one of the most popular orders Corbin and Moore receive. Other customers sit at the counter or at tables and wait for their cream puff sundae, banana split or Boston cooler milkshake, popping in a few coins for a selection on the jukebox, bringing some to their feet for a quick twirl on the imaginative dance floor. Corbin plans on adding ice cream coffee drinks to the menu once summer arrives.

The cafe also satisfies the sweet tooths of those who have moved out of state, but still require the traditional Alinosi's chocolate inside Christmas stockings and Easter baskets. Orders are frequently shipped across the country, from New York to California.

"I like that what I do makes people happy, from every birthday cake or ice cream sundae. It's a very gratifying job," said Corbin.

The Chocolate Bar Cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Call (313) 881-2888. Free parking is available behind the building.

Source: C&G Newspapers

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