Sweets have been served at 7353 Madison St. for 90 years. That tradition began with the Steger’s, a German-American family that began making French Cremes in the basement of the building, back in 1921. They left an indelible mark on local candy making – figuratively and literally.
There is still a brass “S,” which symbolizes the family’s last name, preserved on the door of what is now Shanahan’s Creole Restaurant and Irish Bar. But, perhaps more important, is the legacy of fine chocolate making that continues in that building, to this day.
Steger’s was around until the 1960s, when it made way for La Maison de Bonbon. The house of candy continued to make French Cremes downstairs and serve banana-split sundaes in its parlor.
Then, in 1990, restaurateur Tim Shanahan moved his eatery and watering hole, Shanahan’s Creole Restaurant and Irish Bar, into the former sweet shop – a decision that was made, in large part, because the business already had a liquor license. All the while, the restaurant carried on the candy-making tradition, by continuing to produce the French Cremes.
About five years ago, though, Tim’s wife, Radana, opened up a little sweets store next to the restaurant – one that carries on the name La Maison de Bonbon. French Cremes are still being made beneath Radana’s shop, but she also carries a large assortment of world-class candy, including the liquor-filled variety.
Customers are taken with the candy store’s décor, as well as its aromatic products. “Oh my God, it’s so cute. It’s like France,” exclaimed one customer, during a recent visit.
“Even guys say it’s cute,” Radana chimed in.
Radana, a native of the Czech Republic who just obtained her American citizenship, brings a European sensibility to the store.
“Europeans are purists when it comes to chocolates. They see chocolate as an affordable luxury,” Radana said, “Parisian women indulge themselves with chocolates to lift their spirits.”
She went on to say that chocolate has many beneficial qualities apart from its delightful flavor. “It’s an aphrodisiac and an antioxidant,” Radana explained. “It also has a calming, comforting effect on people.”
The shop carries candy from around the world, but their handmade French Cremes are the most popular. Radana recently got a call from a woman in Germany, who told her that French Cremes from Forest Park were her mother’s favorite, so the woman arranged for Radana to send a box to her mom in Hawaii. The sweets-shop owner said she only ships candy in the winter – not during summer.
Candy can be seasonal in other ways. “Pumpkin-spice caramels are popular in the fall along with my favorite – coconut-covered snowballs,” Radana said. “In the summer, we sell more fruity varieties.”
This year, Radana is celebrating another fall tradition by stocking her store with candy for Halloween.
“Last Halloween I had a big bowl of candy for the trick-or-treaters,” she recalled. “One little boy said, ‘I don’t want that crappy candy, give me a truffle.'” (Though he displayed good taste in candy, the boy’s rudeness was not rewarded.)
Many of Radana’s candies are year-round hits – take her chocolate-covered pretzels, for example. “Most manufacturers skimp on the pretzel, or the chocolate, but my supplier makes them both with high-quality ingredients,” she said.
Radana’s unofficial motto for her shop is, “Downtown quality with neighborhood pricing.” Her Forest Park customers have been very loyal and she loves working and living in town. “Everybody knows each other and the people understand it’s better to buy locally,” she said.
Her shop offers locally made products like Ferrara Pan’s exquisite line of chocolates. Of course, nothing could be more local than the French Cremes. “The recipe hasn’t changed since 1921,” Radana said. “They are freshly made, no preservatives. They are spread on pans by hand. It takes the human spirit to make great candy.”
Nick Moroni contributed to this article