A new chocolate shop, Verdun Fine Chocolates, has opened in Laguna Beach and the sweets hail from Lebanon.
When Hamoody Houdroge was a child in Lebanon, chocolate was part of his daily life.
As a friend of the Hamoush family, the owners of Verdun, he held the confection company in a sweet spot.
"I've known the family for over 40 years," he said. "I grew up with the owner's kids. I used to go to the factory after school and wrap [chocolates]."
Named after a luxury shopping center in Beirut, Verdun has at least seven locations in the Middle East and a couple in Europe.
In 2003, Houdroge convinced founder Mahmoud Hamoush to let him open the first American location in Portland. This month, he opened his second location — in Laguna Beach.
Houdroge is planning a grand opening in April, but is getting used to the area.
Sometimes mistaken for a jewelry store, the shop features colorfully wrapped chocolates — in metallic hues of silver, blue, green and more — behind glass display cases. To Houdroge, it's important to put just as much thought into the presentation as into the taste.
"Every single piece is like a gift by itself," he said.
Houdroge visited Laguna for the first time in September and knew it was the place for Verdun.
"I was here for Labor Day weekend and I fell in love with it," he said. "The style of Laguna, everything about it; it's just beautiful."
And when it comes to competition, the Lebanese confectioner isn't worried.
"You can never have enough chocolatiers in one area because everyone has different taste," he said.
Their most popular chocolates are the gianduja — emulsified hazelnut butter and cocoa — and the layered chocolates, which are a mixture of white chocolate and milk chocolate, he said. The store also offers combinations like coconut cream and pistachio, and cardamom spice.
All in all, the owner is looking forward to the new coastal clientele.
"I am very excited. I can't wait until spring break starts," he said. "Reminds me a lot of Lebanon because it's busy and people come from all over the world."
Verdun Fine Chocolates
Owner: Hamoody Houdroge
Specialty: Milk, dark, hazelnut and white chocolate
Price: Individual pieces: 50 cents to $2; boxes $3.50 to $75
Location: 540 S. Coast Hwy. No. 106, Laguna Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Contact: (949) 464-9400, verdunchocolates.com