Karen D'Onofrio has studied theology and religion throughout her adult life, but when she finally found herself working in a church, it was as a chocolatier using a church's kitchen to make candy. After more than a year of operating out of the basement of Christ the King church, D'Onofrio just opened Stargazer Fine Chocolates & Coffee at 700 Colorado Boulevard, next door to Trader Joe's and in the same building that houses Snooze.
Previously, D'Onofrio had spent some time as an apprentice in a chocolate shop. “I’ve always loved chocolates,” she says. “When I was finishing up grad school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My dad went to the chocolatier he bought our Easter bunnies from every year, and he was retiring, and [my dad] said, ‘Maybe we should buy this shop and take it over.’”
That didn’t work out, but the owner shared his years of experience with D'Onofrio before he retired. The connection sparked her interest in chocolate-making even more, and she followed her blossoming passion to Ecole Chocolat, a three-month online program from which she earned the title Master Chocolatier.
While studying for her master's in theology at St. Augustine College, D'Onofrio met Andrew Whaley, who has worked in and helped open roughly 25 coffee shops around the country — in California, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio and Colorado. Whaley worked at the coffee shop on their college campus at the time, and D'Onofrio shared with him her desire to merge her idea for a gourmet chocolate business with a coffee shop.
Although D'Onofrio is the master chocolatier at Stargazer, she has help from her family, who have been involved from the beginning. Her mother volunteered her dining room for production when D'Onofrio was first starting out, and now takes care of packaging. Her father, John, is the marketer, and her brother is the assistant chocolatier. "This is their family,” says Whaley. "We want this to be a family place.”
Commonwealth Coffee supplies the beans that Whaley and the baristas at Stargazer turn into espresso and pour-over coffee, Japanese iced coffee, and — of course — mochas and hot chocolates. "We've tried to create some synergy here," Whaley explains. "I've worked with [Karen] to get a 61 [percent dark], a 72 [percent dark] and a milk chocolate for both our mochas and hot chocolates. We also want to bring in some single-origin chocolates and pair them with single-origin coffees from the same places.”
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The new retail space allows D'Onofrio to bring her skills out of the basement (so to speak). At one end of the shop is the coffee bar, and at the other is the truffle counter — complete with a work station and marble slab where she demonstrates for customers how she makes her confections.
Truffles are $2.50 apiece and come in a variety of flavors: rosemary-honey in the shape of a beehive; boozy flavors like the Argyle, which is made with whiskey; seasonal flavors like peppermint, eggnog and chai; traditional truffles such as hazelnut and mint (made with fresh mint leaves); and, most important, a coffee truffle made with Commonwealth espresso. The chocolatier has also created space-themed Milky Way, Black Hole and Death Star truffles. The Death Star includes dark, white and milk chocolate rolled in cocoa powder.
If truffles aren’t your thing, Stargazer offers chocolate-covered everything — from pretzels to rice-krispie treats and even homemade marshmallows. If you're just not into chocolate (which seems unimaginable), the shop also sells pastries from Sugar Bakeshop.
Currently, Stargazer has holiday chocolates for sale at the shop and online, including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa specialties. Hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.