Executive chef and chocolatier Steve Amaral, co-founder of North Fork Chocolate Company, in the company's new East Main Street eatery this week. Photo: Gianna Volpe

North Fork Chocolate Company will open the doors tomorrow on East Main Street, offering decadent desserts, waffles and freshly made lunch foods.

The new spot — in a row of stores that includes Ralph’s Italian Ices and Antigua Cafe — is the second new location for North Fork Chocolate, which moved out of its home of eight years on Main Road in Aquebogue and opened up a shop in Mattituck in February.

“I’m looking for this place to be cranking busy,” head chef/chocolatier and co-owner Steve Amaral said of the downtown Riverhead location.

The new shop has a spacious commercial kitchen that will allow the chocolate company to expand its offerings and increase capacity to meet growing demand. Inside, North Fork Chocolate Company is currently ramping up production of chocolate bunnies ahead of Easter, the second-biggest holiday for chocolates, behind Valentine’s Day.

“We looked at what we made last year to decide how much chocolate we’re going to need this year,” North Fork Chocolate Company chocolatier Alanah Visser said.

“I realized we were definitely going to need to make more,” she said.

Visser has been with the company four years. Stars seemed to align when she met Amaral shortly after she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.

“When I first met Steve I told him how I’d learned all of this bean-to-bar stuff and he told me he had just bought the machines needed to do it,” Visser said, recalling Amaral’s timely investment in a melanger, a cocoa bean grinder and refiner. “So I told him, ‘It’s your lucky day,’” she recalled.

And whether it’s luck or something more, “stars aligning” is a common thread in Amaral’s story. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, he’s lived in Hawaii and traveled through Europe, working in Italy, France and Spain. He was about to leave Madrid when a former employer on the East End, the Inn at Quogue, called to say they were starting a catering business.

“So here I am. That was the end of 2000,” Amaral said.

Fast forward two decades and Amaral still has his hands in catering, in addition to making chocolates and other desserts, as well as healthy foods.

North Fork Chocolate boasts a lunch menu chock full of vegan and vegetarian options sourced from local farmers — healthy options for lunch, like hummus, avocado toast, vegan BBQ rib burritos and salads with vegetables cut to order.

“We make everything from scratch and to order,” Amaral said while prepping a falafel salad made with lettuce picked and delivered on the same day from Fresh Greens LI. “Look at how fresh and crunchy this is.”

In addition to using Kurt and Christianna Van de Wetering’s lettuce, one can expect sprouts from Urban Coyote Farm, as well as Mecox Bay Dairy’s Sigot in Amaral’s grilled cheese waffle.

The walls of the new downtown location display another creative passion of Amaral’s: painting.

He credits famed Florentine artist, Piero Resta, in part, for his painting prowess, thanks to a friendship he said bloomed once upon a time in the jungles of Kaupo.

“I told him, ‘Piero, I wanna paint, man. I feel it in me that I can paint, but I don’t know how to get it out,’” Amaral recalled the day he asked the artist to mentor him. Resta told him to see an acupuncturist for two appointments.

“A couple of days later he called and asked if I was finished. When I said yes, he said, ‘Okay, I’m coming to see you.’ He brought stretchers, frames, canvas on a roll, all the tools, paints and brushes, showed me how to stretch a canvas and said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ So after that I would wake up in the middle of the night, go out to my garage and start to paint my dreams.”

Dreams and epiphanies are another common theme in the Amaral canon. An epiphany led him to making chocolate in 2012. He and partner Ann Corley landed a spot at the Stony Brook University Incubator in Calverton, and North Fork Chocolate was born. Two years later, after a stint as a pop-up at Tanger Outlets, they opened their first brick-and-mortar on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Another epiphany prompted his personal journey toward a plant-based diet in 1995 — around the same time he began to paint.

“I was driving down Mount Haleakalā from Kula in Maui, where I lived, to my job in Wailea by the beach and I had a vision,” Amaral said. “My whole windshield turned to old television static followed by the hoof of an animal that became a human arm and a voice said, ‘Don’t eat your brother.’ So, from that day on, I stopped eating red meat. I went vegan for a while and started eating chicken and fish again at some point because I’m a chef and I had to do it, but no red meat.”

Toward that end, the East Main Street eatery, in addition to serving as North Fork Chocolate Company’s commercial kitchen and a spot for satiating one’s sweet tooth, will also be a place people will be able to grab a vegan or vegetarian lunch.

“I’m not trying to push my agenda on anybody. I just think the universe is ready to accept the fact that you don’t have to eat overly-processed food anymore,” Amaral said.

Downtown Riverhead’s newest business will open its doors to the public for the first time tomorrow at 10 a.m. at 309 East Main Street.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Gianna Volpe

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