Chicagoland has a historical fondness for sweet confections, and a sliver of that history is housed at La Maison de Bonbon, 7353 Madison St. in Forest Park.
In between the 1920 arrival of Fannie May and the first batch of Frango Mints crafted at Marshall Field’s in 1929, La Maison de Bonbon made its debut on Chicago’s competitive candy scene in 1921. A century later the jewel-box sized shop maintains a century long chocolate-making legacy in the diminutive storefront capable of holding just a few shoppers at a time.
“Granddaughters come in today because their grandmothers bought our chocolates for them when they were little girls,” said Esthela Gonzalez, manager of La Maison de Bonbon. “The chocolates we make are a family tradition for our customers more than anything else. Especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Artisan chocolatiers first came to Madison Street when the Stejr family made their way from Germany to Forest Park and opened Stejr’s Candy Kitchen. The family began making French Crèmes and other bonbons before they transitioned the business to the Jerome family who continued peddling the popular chocolates.
The business continued to change hands, but every owner continued the tradition of selling the indulgent artisan chocolates.
Tim Shanahan bought the business in the early 1990s and wrapped the candy making business into Shanahan’s Louisiana Creole Kitchen. In 2006, Shanahan carved out a corner of his jambalaya-focused dining room to a create a dedicated storefront for La Maison de Bonbon and now has more than 30 years of experience turning out the popular chocolate-meets-caramel confections with 100 years of history in every bite.
In addition to the silky smooth Original French Crèmes, La Maison de Bonbon also offers chocolate dipped French Crèmes, salted caramels and nut-covered English toffee. Assorted boxed chocolates and wines are also sold on site.
The key to La Maison de Bonbon’s quality craftsmanship is small batch production. In fact, chocolatiers in the Madison Street kitchens still rely on a 100-year-old copper pot to make their chocolate treats. The pot was passed down from one owner to the next to ensure the La Maison de Bonbon tradition would endure from one generation to the next.
“Forest Park is a community built on tradition,” Gonzalez said. “We take pride in being responsible for keeping this legacy alive for years to come.”
As far as Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development is concerned, chocolate is “one of the essential food groups.” She admits to personally indulging in La Maison de Bonbon’s Original French Crèmes for nearly half a century and appreciates they have been sold from the same location since 1921.
“This silky slice of heaven satisfies my chocolate craving like nothing else, but what’s even more satisfying is that each bite tastes like a celebration of the history of this beloved confection,” said Kokenes. “Longtime traditions are part of Forest Park’s history. They tell a story and remind us of what shaped our community and help us feel that we are part of something unique.”