Event - See's Candies at Tustin Media Preview

See's Candies has been a staple sight (and perhaps visit) of so many mall (and plaza) goers in southern California for years, maintaining its simple black-and-white checkerboard floor look and bright studio-like lighting as homage to Mary See's original kitchen. I would venture to say that for most people, the favorite part of stopping in the store aside from the walls and counters of candy is the free morsel of chocolate that awaits each customer. Try it if you haven't - you walk in, start to browse, and get offered candy. Not a sample size either. It's a piece akin to any you'd buy. No wonder the entire company goes through more than a million pounds a year of free chocolates but compared to their annual sales of more than 26 million pounds, it's just a drop in the bucket. I excitedly came out to the newest See's Candies store to open during their media preview event - a wine and chocolate tasting - because I had never heard of them doing such an opening event before and of course, it's wine and chocolate. C'mon.

I knew what to expect from any See's Candies though so the idea of an event at one of these iconic locations piqued my curiosity. Considering the typically boutique-sized locations I had been in before, how many were they really anticipating this evening? What I didn't expect, however, was that we were going to a store two times larger than a normal location, complete with two candy counters and wall-to-wall displays of packaged chocolates. Located next to the Sprouts store at the Tustin Marketplace, this See's Candies is the pioneer of the larger store concept which allows for both casual candy buyers and bulk hoarders (erh, I mean gifters) to shop in the same space.

Since 1921, See's Candies has been an American-made, preservative-free chocolate candy store so it is no surprise how large of a following it has accumulated. The larger store comes as a response to holiday seasons when customers come in purchasing 10-15 pounds of chocolate (or more!) at a time from the fall to about the end of Mother's Day. With twice the capacity of normal stores, this four-cash-register spot came to Tustin in an ideal spot by the 5 and 405 freeways with the anticipation that those outside of the city will still come by. After all, the Orange County locations do well already. During off seasons, there is a dividing rail wall through the center that can close off the extra space for a more common-sized See's experience. We all experienced the space and aged chocolates with help from associates of this new location and others.

The wines for the evening's pairing event were curated and provided by Domaine Somm whose founder and CEO Gina King I met and talked with about pairing wines with chocolate. They conduct events nationwide which is great to know for anyone looking for professional wine experiences. In terms of matches, See's Scotchmallow, Dark Raspberry Cream, and Key Lime Truffle were paired with 2012 Ceago Muscat Canelli, Del Lago, Clear Lake. Their lovely 62% Dark Chocolate Bars made magic with 2012 Trig Point Merlot, Diamond Dust Vineyard, Alexander Valley (probably my favorite pairing of them all). Others really enjoyed the Dark Raspberry Truffle, Milk & Dark Bordeaux, and Milk & Dark Caramel Patties with 2009 Easton Wines Zinfandel, 'Oscura,' Late Harvest, Rinaldi, Fiddletown. The close favorite of the night was the pairing of Milk Pecan Buds with 2010 Rowland Tebb Pinot Noir, Durell Vineyard. For the white wines, I thoroughly enjoyed the Peanut Brittle on its own but it and the Apricot Delight came with 2009 Cargasacchi Vineyard Late Harvest Pinot Grigio, Invincible Sun, Sierra Madre Vineyard.

There were opportunities for guests to also step behind the candy counter during this preview to see how it is set up. We were helped by Jeanette, a candy associate for the Tustin location who had come from another store and been with the company several years, citing how much she enjoys See's Candies and helping others. She showed us the way the chocolates were organized, a standard layout replicable in every store to maintain consistency and allow for associates to move to different locations without re-training if needed. What we learned that was quite interesting was that the chocolates in the candy counter windows were refreshed every day with the previous day's load going into the "Samples" box for customers. After all, these aged, preservative-free chocolates need to be fresh when purchased. Layered boxes lined the shelves beneath each window with stacks of chocolate matching the window displays for ease. It was all so tempting to me though. I'm glad I don't work in a See's - I would sample too many myself!

My thanks go out to the See's staff for accommodating everyone that evening and to those who set up the event and invitations. Best of luck to this new location (opened 11/22/13) at the Tustin Marketplace, especially with the holidays just around the corner!

Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos available on Facebook here.