Unusually for a coffee shop, Terrence Kenniff experiences some of his biggest crowds around 3 p.m. on weekdays. Then again, he is the owner of COCO Confections & Coffee, his confections are mostly artisanal chocolates, and the establishment is within spitball distance of North Shore High School in Sea Cliff, whose rigorous curriculum almost demands a midafternoon boost. That’s true of both students and faculty, we discovered, watching a tired-looking teacher shuffle in for a cappuccino.
“What do you teach, besides rowdy kids?” asked Kenniff, whose shop sells a wide variety of to-go coffee and tea drinks in a 750-square-foot retail space. “They’re actually pretty good,” laughed the man, adding that he teaches chemistry. Kenniff tried to upsell him a large glazed doughnut but the man demurred. “Next time,” he said, turning on his heel.
Kenniff is from Brooklyn, which is perhaps one reason why his doughnuts, from Dough in Bedford-Stuyvesant, “are the best doughnuts you will ever eat in your life.” But it’s COCO’s eponymous confections that are the marquee attraction, and his passion for them dates back more than a decade. Indeed, Kenniff’s new shop opened “11 years to the day of what caused us to be here.”
Last Friday, you see, marked 11 years since he married his wife Vlada, a fellow Brooklynite originally from Uzbekistan. “When my wife and I were planning our wedding and thinking about what wedding favors we were going to give our guests,” he said, “I couldn’t in good conscience give anyone another set of LOVE coasters, or a votive or a wine stopper.” After all, Kenniff was the manager of an upscale catering facility in his home borough.
“In my wife’s culture, tea is very important. When guests and travelers come, you make tea and serve it with fine chocolates.” And so, Kenniff and his betrothed resolved to do the same thing, working with a local chocolatier who handcrafted some Earl Grey truffles for the couple to pair with the tea blend in their swag bags. “And as we went through the process, we decided that we were going to open a chocolate shop.”
Once again, he enlisted area experts in the cause, most notably Michael Rogak of JoMart Chocolates in south Brooklyn, whom Kenniff considers a mentor. COCO’s cocoa creations are also the product of Kristi Wilson, a Wisconsin chocolatier whose beautiful hand-painted candies are “confections with a conscience,” as she puts it on her Etsy page.
“The chocolate trade is sometimes like the diamond trade,” Kenniff said. “There’s slave labor and child labor, things like that. So to combat that, she only uses organic, single-origin cocoa from places like Ecuador and Colombia,” rather than, say, Ghana or the Ivory Coast. “She goes to South America, and then gives back to the farmers. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to work with her.”
So far, COCO’s pistachio buttercrunch — the nuts coating toffee enrobed in dark chocolate — is selling well, as are the brightly painted Nutella bonbons, and the green tea matcha-infused white chocolate Buddhas. But Kenniff seemed happiest about the sweet reception he’s gotten from the locals.
“People come in and say, ‘what a great addition to the community. The coffee’s fantastic, and the chocolate’s outrageous.’”
Coco Confections & Coffee is at 365 Glen Cove Ave., Sea Cliff, 516-277-2657.