Like a Kid In a Candy Store

Sometimes I blackout when I eat.

I mean, not actually blackout—but it feels very similar. I go into a sort of food coma when presented with a table full of free goodies, eating one after the other in assembly line fashion: move hand to candy, un-wrap candy, put in mouth, repeat.

I would have made a stellar Lucy Ricardo.

I would also be 800 pounds if I lived in one of Mark Tarses’ Berkeley, Calif. Apartments.

Tarses, an independent rental owner, happily gives away 2,000 pounds of chocolate and cookies every year to his residents, vendors and industry friends, and has never accepted payment in return.

Tarses started his home-based company, the Berkeley Nut Company, in the mid 1980s as a way of creating goodwill with his residents. He began by making chocolate turtles for his residents during the holidays, but started using his chocolate to build positive relationships with them when he noticed his residents loved the treats and were coming back for more.

I like to picture them begging for just one more pecan cluster at 3 a.m., hands coated in chocolate, but I’m told it was far more civilized than that.

Today, Tarses’ residents knock on his door to “shop” his free chocolate store right out of his home, and they can take as much as they want. (This would be disastrous for me.) He also gives chocolate to contractors. Some even refused payment after taking a bagful of chocolate treats.

The display cases in his living room are filled with tubs of chocolate that he made himself, from chocolate-covered Oreos to chocolate bars filled with breakfast cereals. On the top shelf sits a chocolate bar shaped like the Eiffel Tower, and his walls are covered with vintage posters featuring ads from Hershey’s, Nestle and Cadbury.

Although Tarses’ chocolate store—which is open by invitation only, due to people like me—features traditional dark and milk chocolate bars, he likes to experiment and make treats that are unique to the Berkeley Nut Company, which he says is the best free chocolate store in the area.

Currently, several of his residents are German, so he is making Schweineohren—also known as “pig’s ears”—a German puff pastry dipped in chocolate.

All of his chocolates are made in his kitchen using simple tools. The most expensive item in the kitchen is a $1,200 vibration table that removes air bubbles from melted chocolate and levels it out. 

He may, however, need to invest in a crane to lift some of his more regular customers out of their apartments.

During the holidays, Tarses also sets up a table on which he gathers gifts such as vacuum cleaners, blenders, and other household appliances for his residents to choose from and take home as gifts.

Because of the goodwill he extends to his residents, Tarses says he has never needed to serve a three-day notice to pay rent or evict a resident.

You’d have to be nuts to leave.

For more, check out “A Real Sweetheart” on pg. 67 in the August issue of units, which mailed Aug. 11. The e-version is available now.