Forest Hills chocolate shop re-opens

By Gabriel Rom

Mark Libertini, the new co-owner of Aigner Chocolates in Forest Hills, smiled broadly from across the counter and offered a piece of peanut brittle–dark or milk–to any customer willing to take him up.

In August, Libertini, a trained pastry chef, who also co-owns a deli in Midtown Manhattan, was in Forest Hills hoping to surprise his fiancée with some sweets from Aigner. He hadn’t known that after almost five decades the Aigner family had decided to put the store up for sale. Libertini saw the for-rent sign, called the number and met with the Aigners later that day.

Libertini thought he was well suited to take the job over and the Aigners agreed. Two weeks later the store was his and his fiancée’s. After some brief aesthetic work they re-opened to a relieved community.

The little confectionery shop on the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and 71st Road is not simply a store front, but a self-contained world: from the boiling of the sugar to making fillings to packaging and presentation.

Much of the equipment is at least 50 years old and is the same equipment Peter Aigner, the son of the original John Aigner, grew up using.

In his kitchen Libertini proudly pointed to a hulking machine called a cream-beater that can mix up to 100 pounds of sugar in a batch. Next to him were at least a dozen trays with cubes of raspberry and cherry jelly.

“You’re not going to find many shops like this because we’re really like a mini-chocolate factory,” Libertini said.

In the refrigerating room, which looks like a closet filled with chocolate, stacks of packaged chocolates with names like Cashew Bark and Cat Tongues are piled up to the ceiling.

“If I could bottle the smell in this room, I’d be rich,” he said.

Libertini said almost all of his recipes are the same as Aigner’s.

The store dates back to 1930, when it was called Krause’s Candy Kitchen. John Aigner, an Austrian immigrant who worked at Krause’s, took over the business in 1960, and got his son Peter to help him make chocolate.

“Aigner is one of those places that, because it was here for so long, I think it got taken for granted a little,” Libertini said. “Once they put the for-rent sign up, everyone suddenly realized how much they loved the place. Then when they heard it got reopened, everyone is coming back. Forest Hills is a tightly knit community and people here have just been fantastic to us.”

Libertini, who co-owns the store with his fiancée Rachel Kellner, has two children, aged 8 and 10 from a previous marriage.

“We don’t let them do that much, but when the machines are on, they get chocolate all over themselves and just have a blast. It’s a kid’s dream.”

“Thinking about the future,” Libertini said, “I’d love for them to get involved, but if they do they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”

A customer walked out, brittle in hand, and Libertini glanced up.

“Take care man, I’ll see you next week,” the chocolate maker said.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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