About 30 minutes into the mega-blockbuster film Hunger Games, Bill Brown, the owner of William Dean Chocolates in Belleair Bluffs, felt his seatmates elbow him in the sides.
Up on the screen were several of his handmade chocolate truffles.
Like a parent knows the face of his own child, Brown recognized the green and yellow pattern he and employee Wyatt Rachal painstakingly hand-paint on the top of the lemongrass and coconut truffle; the marble swirl of purple, bronze and red on the PB&J; the purple dotted port with fig; and the lavender truffle in a delicate butterfly shape.
It was the scene in the train where protagonist Katniss and love interest Peeta are bound for the Capitol and a fate uncertain. Laid out before them are the most opulent foods imaginable, including about a dozen chocolates on a silver tray at the center of the screen. But at the Friday night screening, the vision of his chocolates in a supporting role was over in a matter of seconds.
Brown contacted the film's food stylist, Jack White, who has worked on more than 75 Hollywood films.
"He said he purchased chocolates at the Dean & Deluca in Charlotte, N.C. (the movie was filmed in Hildebran, N.C., about an hour outside of Charlotte), and we sell our chocolates there," Brown says.
Reached by phone Monday, White could not confirm the origin of the chocolates — only that they were not purchased directly from William Dean.
"Foods for the film were sourced by several different people locally in Charlotte, including Dean & Deluca. Some foods we made, and other things were flown in from Los Angeles."
Not content to live with the uncertainty, Brown went back to the Largo Mall on Monday afternoon to see his chocolates' cameo again.
"There's zero doubt in my mind. The first time I saw it, it was a lot to take in. I wasn't expecting it. But now that I know they're there, it's easier to spot."
It's not the chocolates' first brush with fame. Actor Mo'Nique and singer Kelly Clarkson have each sampled William Dean sweets, which have won dozens of awards in national and international competitions.
"I don't want to be in a movie, but if my chocolates make it, that's okay," says Brown like a proud papa.
But unlike the Hunger Games, "you don't have to kill anyone to have our chocolates here."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293.