The Washington Post
A sweet job: 12-year-old works in family chocolate shop
Growing up in a chocolate factory sounds like a dream, but for 12-year-old Brynn O’neill, it’s pretty close to real life. Brynn, who identifies as “nonbinary” gender, was 7 years old when their parents bought Chamberlain’s Chocolate Factory near Atlanta, Georgia. That year, Brynn’s mother and father assigned Brynn the task of setting pretzels and gummy bears on the enrober — a machine that coats candies, cookies and other treats with chocolate.
“Being in a chocolate shop family, I always have a great answer for the ‘ tell us something interesting’ icebreaker questions at school,” Brynn says.
The holiday season for candy makers begins about October 1. Brynn, their mother and employees transform giant bars of chocolate into truffles, caramels and hot chocolate bombs.
“My shop tasks this season are skewering strawberries — so many strawberries — and stuffing chocolates in boxes,” Brynn says.
Brynn’s favorite Chamberlain’s specialty is the peppermint patty — a mint-flavored candy disk dipped in chocolate. “I actually don’t eat as much chocolate as you might think,” Brynn says. “But those are really good.”
Their family’s store is in a strip mall beside a hair salon and a tattoo parlor. Inside, cozy red couches seem to invite visitors to sit and enjoy a brownie sundae or a Freakshake — an “extreme milkshake” topped with whipped cream and cake.
Shelves around the shop display gift baskets, “reindeer” food, peppermint bark and chocolate Santas. The business uses more than 2,000 molds for chocolate, including sailboats and mermaids, dreidels and 3-D Christmas trees. There are also kits so that you can make your own molded chocolates.
Two years ago, Brynn realized that dipping strawberries into chocolate and wrapping lollipops provided a powerful distraction from tragedy. Brynn’s father died, and they and their mother and older sisters had to work together through the grief and figure out the complicated machines that he had run.
“My mom and sisters and I are really close,” Brynn says. “The chocolate shop brought us together after Dad died.”
One of their favorite tasks over the past five years has been helping with chocolate parties at Chamberlain’s. Girl Scouts can earn badges at the shop, and people have birthday parties there. Brynn is fond of assisting with groups that come to make chocolate bars.
“We give them a mold, and we set out all sorts of fruit and nuts and candy pieces,” Brynn says. “They choose their
chocolate and then add what they want. While they’re waiting for the chocolate to harden, they design their own wrapper.”
When not in the store or doing schoolwork, Brynn plays competitive volleyball and the online game Roblox. “I earn Robux — money to upgrade my avatar — for wrapping lollipops in the shop,” Brynn says.
With the holiday season in full swing, however, Brynn has little time for games until the end of the year. Orders come from across the country, and they pitch in to help their mother and employees to fill them.
“I’m probably one of the only kids on the planet who’s glad when Christmas is over,” Brynn says.