MARK LIBERTINI & RACHEL KELLNER OF AIGNER CHOCOLATES WITH ‘HARVEY’ THE CHOCOLATE EASTER BUNNY.
BY MICHAEL PERLMAN
Mark Libertini and Rachel Kellner, the couple who owns Aigner Chocolates on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, made a difference for nearly 100 local seniors who live alone and are homebound by donating chocolate Easter bunnies and chocolate-covered matzah and macaroons for Passover.
“Seeing my dad smile was my best gift,” said Diane Amodeo, whose father was one of the recipients. “Aigner Chocolates is the gift that keeps on giving. Since they joined our community they have been so charitable, and that giving community spirit came to my home. My dad was so happy, he kept saying ‘how nice of them.’”
Over 10 volunteers partnered with Aigner Chocolates, including some from the recently launched Coronavirus Relief Initiative.
“It was great to find an opportunity to volunteer, especially at this time,” said Danielle Tommaso. “It definitely brought a smile to people’s faces when there wasn’t much else to smile about.”
A note placed in each gift bag read, “We hope this chocolate treat finds you safe and healthy. There are many people who are thinking about you and praying for you. If you are in distress or need any assistance, do not hesitate to call us at 718-544-1850. We wish you the best!”
“To see firsthand the smiles on so many faces is priceless,” said Jen Curti. “When I heard about Aigner’s project, I had to be involved. During a crisis, the best of the best rise to the top. It is a blessing to have such a generous business in our community.”
Aigner Chocolates was founded in 1930. It was owned by the Aigner family for three generations, and bought by Libertini and Kellner in 2015, along with the recipes and traditions. One of those traditions is raffling off a chocolate Easter bunny, which started in the 1980s.
This year, the raffle of the 25-pound bunny, better known as Harvey, was canceled. It was instead donated to Elmhurst Hospital.
“Queens has become the epicenter of the outbreak, and Elmhurst Hospital has been ground zero,” said Kellner. “If anyone needs positive energy and good spirits, it’s the medical professionals. If we can brighten their day by just having a moment of pleasure with chocolate, it will mean something.
“We feel grateful that we’re able to contribute in a small way,” she added. “This effort was a no-brainer for Mark and I.” Michael Arcati, post advocate of American Legion Continental Post 1424, delivered the treat to the hospital. “The owners of Aigner Chocolates know what it means to be part of a community,” he said. “Walking into their store makes you feel like a kid again.”
For Kellner and Libertini, community has always been important. In the past, the shop has partnered with and donated to the LI Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Forestdale, Women Helping Women, Queens Center For Progress, and local senior centers.
“We are very much inspired by the number of creative ways that our community has been helping,” Kellner said. “As small business owners, we believe in supporting other local organizations. We made giving back part of the thread of Aigner Chocolates.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Aigner’s business model has been modified. For now, the shop offer curbside pickup from noon to 2 p.m. daily for orders placed at aignerchocolates.com or by phone or email.
“We have shut down our chocolate production and showroom, shortened our hours, and offer discounts for online orders,” Kellner said. “Despite not having staff here, we have been overwhelmed by the business that we have.”