The Shoppes of Premise Maid

The Shoppes of Premise Maid
by Nancy Moffett

Driving past the Premise Maid complex on Rt. 222 west of Allentown always makes me smile. The beautiful buildings with their Old World charm and the delicious treats that wait inside urge me to pull in, then wander through the shops, to ooh and aah at the candy, the ice cream, the unique gift items and the baked goods. How did this fairyland of indulgence grow up in the farmlands of Breinigsville?

The Candy Man

William Damiano was a professional and chemical engineer for Air Products and Chemicals in 1979 when he decided to start a candy business. Using his engineering background and a determination to make the freshest, highest-quality chocolates possible, he named the company Premise Maid (indicating all products were made on “the premises”) and opened a 700-square-foot store and manufacturing facility in Fleetwood, Pa. As the business grew, he sold his candies to card and gift stores and Hess’s department stores. At its peak, he had 60 to 80 accounts in the Lehigh Valley… all while working full-time at Air Products.

In 1984, Damiano moved Premise Maid to a two-acre farmstead in Breinigsville. The farmhouse, barn, carriage house and milk shed on the property all dated to the pre-Civil War era. The family – which included William’s wife Frances, sons Mike and Joe and daughter Lorraine – worked together to transform the buildings into a charming Old World-style complex with a Chocolate Shoppe, a Bakery and an Ice Creamery. The buildings are adorned with half-timbers, cross-hatched windows, shutters, flower boxes and a bell tower, giving them the air of a Bavarian village. In fact, Damiano wrote a “Heidi”-like tale to accompany the theme:

The “maid” of Premise Maid is Anna, a young girl who made chocolates in Bavaria in the mid-1800s until she, her father, her uncle and her friends the elves came to Breinigsville to make candies in America.

He illustrated his story with a coloring book and figures of the tale’s characters that are still on display in the Candy Shoppe.

“Dad was a fun-loving, laughing hard worker,” says Joe Damiano, CEO of the company. “He was first-in and last-out every day, and would do extensive planning before adding or changing anything.” William passed on his imagination, devotion to quality and his work ethic to his children, Joe Damiano and Lorraine Barebo, who now run the business along with Frances. “Never be afraid to dream, just be willing to work hard to make that dream a reality,” was one of William’s philosophies. In tribute to him – he passed away early this year – a plaque with this saying hangs in the courtyard just outside the Bakery entrance.

The Confections

“We make our own chocolate blends,” explains Joe, using various brands of high-cocoa-content chocolate from American companies. Candies are made in small batches from time-tested family recipes in the tradition of the best chocolatiers. When the business began, milk chocolate was predominant. The candies they make now are half milk and half dark chocolate, reflecting customers’ changing tastes.

Flavors range from traditional butter creams to sea salt caramels to s’mores and Rice Crispy turtles. Types of candy include truffles, creams, clusters, jellies and molded pieces. How about chocolate-covered gummy bears, Jordan almonds, espresso beans or chocolate fudge? They make hard candies as well, and offerings change with the seasons. You can custom-mix your own box of chocolates or order products with names, messages, pictures or company logos. Walking through the Chocolate Shoppe (housed in a five-room carriage house), you’re sure to find something to entice anyone’s
taste buds.

This area also houses the Bakery which offers torte cakes in two sizes with flavors such as chocolate peanut butter, chocolate Oreo, peanut butter Tandy cake, cannoli and Italian rum. Look for spice cake with pumpkin mousse in the fall… a best-seller. German sugar cakes come in apple; apricot; blueberry; and pineapple, raspberry or strawberry cream cheese. Loaf breads, whole fruit pies and Lehigh Valley favorites – dark molasses shoofly and funny cake – are also available. Some of the tortes are finished off with candies on top. Customers can order sheet cakes and fully decorated “celebration” cakes for special occasions.

In the three-story barn the Ice Creamery serves 44 flavors of premium ice cream made with pure sweet cream, milk, sugar and Dutch cocoa. “We took our chocolate flavors and made them into ice cream,” explains Lorraine. Examples of candy-inspired ice cream are cashew turtle, white chocolate raspberry cream, Black Forest raspberry cream, triple chocolate sin and more. Waffle cones are also made on premises and come dipped in peanut butter, chocolate or peanuts. Yum! Ice cream cakes and pies, sundaes and milk shakes are also available in lots of flavors.

The Legacy

Premise Maid has 30 to 50 employees, both full and part-time, depending on the season. Lorraine handles marketing. Frances buys and arranges gifts such as stuffed animals, specialty food items, and collectible lines like Lenox, Disney and Jim Shore. Gifts are artfully displayed throughout the Chocolate Shop and Bakery and are a good reason in themselves for a visit.

Joe functions as CEO, but everyone pitches in wherever they’re needed. “We’ve been working here since we were teens,” Joe explains, “which gave us a feel for the business.” Even older brother Mike (who’s an engineer) lends a hand at times. And, the third generation is also involved. Lorraine’s children, Charlie and Ashley; and Mike’s kids, Vincent and Alexandra, work either in the store or on the grounds. Even Joe’s ten-year-old daughter Alexis helps out by filling shelves.

Joe and Lorraine both went to college at their father’s urging in order to have a broad view before making a career at Premise Maid. They took business courses and majored in Finance (Joe) and Marketing (Lorraine). “Dad said to never be afraid to learn. The only failure is not trying,” Lorraine explains. That ability to change and grow has helped keep the company successful, drawing customers from as far away as New Jersey and New York, bringing them back year after year… especially for holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

“We strive to keep Premise Maid ever-changing and new,” Joe says, “and focus on giving our customers the best service and products possible”… continuing William’s legacy of hard work, imagination and commitment to making the highest-quality chocolates.

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