March 12, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Melissa Stephens, owner of The Cordial Cherry, has hit a nerve in the sweet tooth of Omaha’s choosiest chocolate fiends. What began eight years ago as a way to pay for graduate school has evolved into national acclaim and a busy holiday season that kept her and her team of family elves making chocolates around the clock. It didn’t hurt that a little old icon from Chicago named Oprah listed Stephen’s nativity scene of chocolate-covered cordial cherries as one of her favorite things of 2013.

Her boutique on 180th and Pacific is like a “chocolate jewelry box.” Chandeliers twinkle like diamonds amid the smell of warm chocolate. Little glass boxes neatly  display mouth-melting morsels, and shiny cake domes of treats tempt at every turn. Upside-down lamps hang whimsically among repurposed furniture for a French country feel. In the center of it all stands a beautiful and petite Stephens, whose perfectly coiffed mane and flawless makeup belie the fact that she was running on a not atypical three hours of sleep.

“My vision was to have a beautiful place where people could take their time and really appreciate the experience,” says the detail-oriented mother of four. “I always have this tendency to doll things up and decorate them. It’s very therapeutic for me.”

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Even the presentation of her delicious box of confections is schemingly “just so.” Each box is carefully bound in twine by her sons and topped with a sprig of evergreen and an adorable custom-made tag. She learned how to make the chocolate-covered cordial cherries from her Grandma Jacque, whose picture hangs prominently in the shop, almost as if to cast an approving gaze over the wonder her granddaughter created. Stephens says that while her grandfather was away serving in the military, her grandma would occupy her time by taking cooking classes. “Every Christmas her kitchen table would be covered with these cordial cherries. We would be walking by and would have to snag a couple. So the table would dwindle and dwindle. By the time we would go, they were all gone,” she says.

But life hasn’t always been a box of chocolates for Stephens. She used to be almost embarrassed of her chocolate business. “I started out in a career of science and research, and I thought I was going to change the world by curing diseases.” Stephens instead struck culinary gold by following her heart. “When I embrace the talent that I’ve been blessed with, and I share that with those around me, that’s when I see the real power in our talents.”

Urging women to discover their talents is important to this entrepreneur, so Stephens launched Stories Coffeehouse in the same shopping plaza last fall as a tool to help other women succeed in business.

But with the sweet often comes the bittersweet, she recalls in relating the story of a man who was only given a few days to live. His sister was sent to the store so that he could enjoy Stephen’s cordial cherries one last time.

“They’re just chocolates,” she says, “but they make people happy.”

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