News & Politics

Meet the Former GOP Staffer Now Hawking Chocolates in the Pentagon (Pictures)

Chris Edwards talks growing up Greek, trading politics for sweets, and the biggest chocoholics in Washington.

At their Pentagon store, Edward Marc Chocolatier owners Chris Edwards and sister Dana Manatos. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

If you’ve seen the HBO film Game Change, you likely remember the role of Chris Edwards (played by Larry Sullivan), a staffer in John McCain‘s campaign, assigned to vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. At the DC premiere of Game Change, the real Edwards rubbed shoulders with glittery movie people and old friends from the political wars. Then a week or so later, he was spotted hawking chocolate samples at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown. What’s this about? we wondered. It turns out Edwards’s Greek family has been in the chocolate business since 1914, with Chocolate Celebrations, based in Pittsburgh.

Initially, rather than follow in their grandparents’ footsteps, Chris, his sister, Dana Manatos, and his brother, Mark Edwards, opted for a different career path: politics. All three worked at the White House for President George W. Bush, but after the Republican defeat in the ’08 election, they decided to jump into the family business, after all, which they renamed Edward Marc Chocolatier.

They raised money to revive the company and reposition it as a national brand, with an active website and retail clients such as Dean & Deluca and Saks Fifth Avenue. They also pulled off something of a coup: landing the contract to be the only chocolate shop in the Pentagon, where their best-selling item is chocolate Pentagons, offering a rare chance to eat the military industrial complex. Unfortunately for civilians and regular folks, security clearance is required to shop there, but we visited, watched Dana prepare some selections, and had a chat with Chris.

This must be an exciting time to be in the chocolate business.

It is. We’re also planning a lot for the fall. Our busiest times are Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, three in a row. I have to sit back and take a deep breath to look at what we’re doing.

What’s your most popular Easter chocolate?

Our raspberry-truffle Easter egg, which is something we only make this time of year. Our chocolate Easter eggs are hand-rolled. Other fillings include honey-coconut, peanut butter, dark chocolate truffle, and vanilla buttercream.

You’re relatively new to the chocolate business, but your family has been in it for ages, right?

We have a 98-year history, and there’ve been so many ups and downs, highs and lows. It’s an incredible history we can look back on and learn from. This generation, my sister and brother and I, have learned from previous generations. We learned how to decorate Easter bunnies from our grandmother and great-grandmother. Even though we’ve had our stints in government and politics, being Greek our core is our family business.

What role does your cultural background play in the business?

It’s huge, huge, huge. Being Greek taught us the values as children that we’ve carried into or current business model. Even four generations removed it’s still such a large part of my life. It’s the loyalty you have to your family and traditional values. We have the same environment among our employees. If my brother, sister, and I weren’t Greek we wouldn’t be able to work together. As children we were always taught blood is thicker than water.

Given your background in politics, that’s quite a contrast.

That was the most disappointing thing to me about the 2008 campaign. On election night I left Arizona, and I was just lost. I didn’t feel connected to a particular party. A lot of people in my generation and younger feel the way.

Was it always like that?

My two previous campaigns, with George Bush, were more like the experience I have with my family. The Bushes treated each other and the people who worked for them with respect. There’s been a big shift in the political environment in Washington in the past few years, and I figure it started with the 2008 campaign.

You worked on the McCain campaign, assigned to Sarah Palin, and an actor portrays you in the film HBO film Game Change . Do you think the portrayal of the campaign is accurate?

This is a movie that is made from the individual stories of 25 people, all put together into one movie. It’s difficult to make any movie 100 percent accurate. It’s a dramatization. But you really get a sense of what we experienced, the highs and the lows. At the beginning it was a really fun time coming out of the convention with Sarah Palin and John McCain. Everyone was on a high. It was like 2004 with George Bush. Then Palin became such a controversial figure and we hit lows. Were Palin’s lows as low as they were portrayed in the movie? Probably not. But the movie had to get the point across.

What were your first impressions of her?

I was instantly taken by her. She’s somebody who connects. We were all blown away by how nice she was. There was nobody we had seen or experienced who was like her. It was like traveling with a rock star.

Were you surprised by the divisiveness she seemed to cause?

Yes. There were a lot of questions not answered. I never guessed she would become such a contentious political figure. There have been close friendships that broke down because of the ’08 campaign, but you can’t blame Sarah Palin for the loss. There were many factors. I don’t have a bone to pick with her. On the flip side, you can’t say the campaign didn’t prepare her. I feel like there were many things that happened, and we couldn’t get control of the campaign.

I’ve got to ask: Did you supply chocolates to the campaign?

[laughs] I would occasionally show up with many boxes of chocolates for our long times on the road. Palin’s favorite was the peanut butter meltaway.

Do you still send them to her?

I sent her a box when she was in Washington for the CPAC conference. She loved them.

Who else do you send chocolates?

Dana Perino is a very close friend. Her favorites are the salted caramels. Nancy Brinker‘s favorite is the dark chocolate almond bark. We also make chocolates for Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

What chocolates have you done for the Secretary of State?

Clinton has the State Department seal and her signature on her chocolates. It’s a solid chocolate medallion. We make them in milk and dark.

And for Pelosi?

It was her name as Speaker. Always dark chocolate. She would use them at congressional events, like for the DCCC.

From your experience, who’s the biggest chocoholic in Washington?

Nancy Pelosi, for sure. She’s a dark chocolate fanatic.

How did you manage to get a store in the Pentagon?

Everybody thinks it’s because of our political connections, but someone called from the Pentagon concessions committee–they are the top dogs over there–after they found us on Google, of all things. Instantly my brother, sister, and I decided we had to put in an application. It took 10 to 12 months for them to review us and the other chocolate companies.

But you’re the only chocolate shop there?

Yes, we won the chocolate contract. It has become one of the most successful outlets of our business. No one realizes how much foot traffic you can do at the Pentagon. People come out of the Metro and the first thing they’re hit with is the smell of chocolate.

You famously have a milkshake shop, the Milkshake Factory, in Pittsburgh. Any chance of bringing one to DC?

We’re looking into it. We hope to have something open by 2013, a shake shop with 55 milkshake flavors plus all of the Edward Marc chocolates. In the meantime, we’ll set up [something temporary] for one of the parties related to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Those milkshakes will be made with alcohol.

Do you foresee going back into politics?

Yes, because outside of the chocolate business my true love is politics. I don’t know in what capacity, but eventually.