Whoopi Goldberg walked on set last week and offered the Roots a chocolate first. Then, Jimmy Fallon. Wearing a vest her granddaughter painted and a chunky pair of Doc Martens, she sat in the guest chair and opened the large, wooden lacquered box.
Fallon leaned in.
"You always bring us something amazing."
"I did. It’s William Dean chocolates, there’s the WD. Could stand for White Dude."
Bill Brown, the founder of William Dean Chocolates in Belleair Bluffs, was tickled with that. No word yet on whether his staff is employing the nickname.
Whoopi talking up his chocolates is not Brown’s first brush with fame. His hand-painted beauties had cameos in the Hunger Games films and have won more than 60 national awards including best in show at the New York Chocolate Show and 11 gold medals at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon.
Goldberg fell in love nearly a decade ago while on The View, claiming them as one of her "must haves." Since then, says Brown, she has ordered boxes of chocolates on a nearly weekly basis, most as gifts for others.
"She’s the most generous celebrity I’ve ever encountered," Brown said. "For the Tonys, she sent 10 boxes out and she buys them for people’s birthdays. She sent Elisabeth Hasselbeck some, and she put it on her Instagram."
Goldberg doesn’t eat many herself ("I made her nougats, which she loves, but she said no she couldn’t (indulge); she was hosting at the Oscars that year," Brown said), but celebrity has its perks: Brown decorated some of the chocolates in The Tonight Show’s boxes with a tiny Whoopi face drawing, complete with her signature dreads.
The wooden box comes with 32 chocolates and retails for $110. Fallon must have been a fan (he had one tucked in his cheek when the camera panned back to him) because Goldberg ordered four more boxes to be sent to The Tonight Show set after her segment aired.
What does a cameo on national television get you?
"In the past week or so we’ve sold 10 or 15 boxes," Brown said. "We overnight that box with lots of gel packs and ice."
Beyond the sales, that kind of national attention brings street cred to confections made in Florida.
In fact, William Dean and Norman Love in the Fort Myers area are both internationally known chocolatiers. No small feat because, as Brown says, Florida’s climate makes it the hardest state in which to make quality chocolates. Brown just thinks of our heat and humidity as a sweet challenge.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.