Patrick Magee, owner of Burst’s Chocolates, loves local tradition. He was cutting trays of jellies they had made that morning into squares as we began to discuss his history at the shop. As I was soon to find out, Burst’s history is just as rich as the chocolate they make, and equally as full of good vibes.
“We are part of a lot of traditions in Corvallis,” he said. While giving me a tour of his Corvallis institution, Magee points out different historical Corvallis objects he has salvaged throughout the years. “The floor is from the cannery hall where Sam Fit is now,” he explained, “and this mural is from the old drugstore.”
Burst’s is in fact the only business that has been located at 353 SW Madison Avenue since it was opened by Rhea and Charlie Burst in 1938. Since that time, Burst’s Chocolates has become a local focal point and a tradition for all the major holidays, though they are busiest during Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter.
Generation after generation visit Burst’s to partake of their high quality confections. Grandparents bring grandchildren year after year, and the tradition is born anew.
Right now Burst’s is ready for Valentine’s Day. Their shelves are full of heart shaped chocolates, and their walls are lined with heart shaped boxes – some filled and some you can fill yourself. Chloe Regele, the store manager, explained that boyfriends and husbands bring their heart boxes back to Burst’s year after year to refill them with chocolates for their sweeties.
“Two men have been refilling their boxes for over 30 years,” she said.
Specialties this time of year include velvet hearts, which have a whipped, airy texture inside somewhere between a butter cream and a truffle, peanut butter hearts filled to the brim with peanut-buttery goodness, and chocolate dipped strawberries, which they make just around Valentine’s Day.
For Christmas and Valentine’s Day, they also make cordial cherries. Oregon cherries are given a long soak in a high-proof alcohol, giving them a rich flavor. They are then covered in gourmet chocolate. These delicious morsels also come in brandy, amaretto, and port varieties.
If that isn’t enough to make your heart skip a beat, another specialty at Burst’s are their marionberry truffles made with local marionberries. They also work with Willamette Valley Vineyards and a variety of local distilleries to create the ganaches featured in some of their chocolates.
When the Burst’s first opened their store 80 years ago, all of the chocolate was made in a small space in the back, but as time went on and their reputation for chocolate mastery spread, larger facilities were needed. So the downstairs, an area previously used by a local dry cleaner to store coats, was converted into a hub of chocolate making to accommodate the growing demand.
Magee showed me around the maze-like facility where the magic happens. During my visit chocolatier Brandon Regele, husband to Chloe Regele, pumped chocolate into molds before dropping them from about half an inch off the counter. “This gets all of the air bubbles out,” he explained.
He was molding Corvallis Bars, which are chocolate bars with Corvallis stamped in large letters on the front; a popular item for visitors or as gifts. Other popular molds include sasquatches and beavers. After Valentine’s Day, they’ll begin molding bunnies for Easter, which is another big holiday for the shop.
Brandon also talked about the tradition surrounding Burst’s. His great-grandparents would bring his grandparents to Burst’s. When he was a kid, his grandparents would bring him in to buy old-fashioned horehound candies.
When Rhea and Charlie Burst opened their store, times were lean, but they believed that, “any kid with a penny in their pocket should be able to come in and get a piece of candy.” Rhea worked in the front of the store, and Charlie made chocolates in the back on a marble slab.
The store has only had four different owners in the past 80 years, and each has upheld Rhea and Charlie Burst’s values of quality candies at affordable prices. Even with the economic ups and downs since it’s doors opened, Burst’s has been a staple in the community, and Magee loves being a part of so many people’s traditions.
Magee grew up right outside of Corvallis. “I was the first child in a family with a legacy of chefs and a love of good food.” After graduating from Oregon State University, Magee lived abroad for three years to study cooking. When he came home to Corvallis in 1996, he planned on staying for just a year before returning to Europe. In that time he needed a job, and recalling all of his positive memories at Burst’s, he introduced himself to Don Burck, the store’s third owner, who immediately offered him a job.
As his year back home came to a close, Magee’s desire to return to Europe faded. He had found his dream job, and 20 years ago, Burck sold him the shop that he loved so much.
While speaking with him, it is clear Magee is truly passionate about the confections he and his team make. Then he showed me where they store their supply of chocolates, a small closet like room filled with box after box of truffles, caramels, cremes, molded chocolates, and chocolate covered nuts. Each different variety has a special mark on the top so that they will be able to tell them apart. It was good I wasn’t left unsupervised, because it was almost impossible not to try every last one.
With the smell of warm chocolate in the air, it was time for me to let everyone get back to work making enough chocolate to satisfy customers’ Valentine’s Day sweet tooth. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I recommend letting Burst’s become part of your Valentine’s Day tradition.
By Ashley Rammelsberg