Like so many things wonderful, it all began with a piece of chocolate.
For over 30 years, the Gondek family has helped satiate the local sweet tooth with , a sweet shop that converted to a family restaurant, yet remains a staple for chocolate lovers throughout the area.
The fixture on Route 27 launched with a simple beginning, out of a love for chocolate.
"My kids all went off to school, and I had six kids, so I didn't know what to do with myself," said Mary Gondek, who opened Confectionately Yours with husband Joe in 1981. "I started dabbling in candy-making and cake decorating, and we just evolved from that small store front into what we are today."
For the Gondeks, the metamorphosis of over the last three decades from a sweet shop to a restaurant was fueled by a simple desire to fill what the area lacked.
"When we first started to make ice cream, it was so hot, but there was no place to go for ice cream," Mary said. "So we decided we should just make our own. Then we became known for chocolate and ice cream. So when we started making lunches, it was okay but we thought this area needs a nice American grill, and here we are."
After noticing a shortage in local family-style establishments, the Gondeks decided to put the family back in family restaurants.
"We did lunch at the other store and as much as we tried, it never really took off because people only looked at us for chocolate and ice cream," said daughter Jessica. "We enjoyed the restaurant side of it and we wanted to pursue that. We knew from the first day that it had to be an old fashioned theme. We were thinking either hot pink and neon or classic, warm and friendly. Obviously classic won out."
When you walk inside the door of Confectionately Yours, you immediately notice a long counter and diner stools, which provides a nostalgic view of the 1950's era neighborhood soda shop.
"The first day we opened the restaurant, a grandpa and his grandson came in, sat down at the counter and ordered ice cream. The grandpa said 'wow this is great, this how it used to be when I was a little boy," Mary said. "And I thought okay, we did this right. That's how it's supposed to be when you come here with your family.
"I feel like we've lost that in this country, we don't sit down and eat together at the table as much, instead of in front of the TV. That's why we wanted this place to be family oriented. They call us the 'Cheers' of South Brunswick."
After opening the eatery “where everybody knows your name,” has already exceeded anything the family hoped for when they conceived the idea for the expansion.
As chain restaurants fizzle and go out of business throughout the country, the Gondeks said it's a simple formula that has allowed them to thrive in the face of a down economy.
"There's not one day when one of us is not here, so we control what goes out and what comes in," Jessica said. "Everything is made here like we would at home. We hand-peel our potatoes, if you can imagine hand-peeling 100 lbs. of potatoes for mashed potatoes, but that's how we do it.
"The fish is hand-breaded, it doesn't come breaded out of a freezer. Our soups aren't frozen; it's made fresh everyday. Everything is made from scratch."
Of course, when transitioning to a restaurant, the Gondeks didn't abandon what they're known for. The eatery still offers a dizzying variety of all things chocolate, made on site, in addition to their homemade ice cream and other desserts.
Mary said the success of Confectionately Yours has always been the pairing of quality with service. After the opening of the restaurant, a customer was eating a corned beef platter on St. Patrick's Day and Mary asked him how it was, to which he replied that it was okay, but he thought it was a little fatty.
"I went back and hand-carved him another serving and I told him okay is never an okay answer," she said. "We can't make everybody happy, but we do the best we can."
The Gondeks said it's that attention to detail and determination to make sure every customer leaves satisfied that has instilled a deep sense of loyalty in their patrons.
"I got a phone call once from a woman who said 'hi, my husband is coming in there and I need you to make sure he gets me this and that,' and I said but I don't know who your husband is," Jessica said. "We had another guy come in because he got his wife chocolate from somewhere else and she screamed at him 'how could you go there instead of Confectionately Yours?' People are too funny.
"But we stand behind our product and give people the best we can for a reasonable price. Things are so expensive today, so it's nice to know there's a place to come, bring the family, and enjoy dinner, some ice cream and chocolate at a reasonable price."
With 30 years in the area, the Gondeks said their customers have evolved to become more like members of the family. That belief has become a catalyst for Confectionately Yours to help local charities like the and raise funds.
"I believe that as a business we need to reach out and help the community that supports us," Mary said. "No matter what you do in life, you need to give back."
As much as Confectionately Yours has evolved over the years from that first piece of chocolate, the Gondeks said they have now reached their final destination with the restaurant, as Jessica said the eatery has become more like home than their actual houses.
"We've seen a lot of things over the past 30 years. People are born, people die, and we’ve been to funerals, weddings and Christenings,” Mary said. “We've laughed and we've cried. It can be hard because sometimes you get too attached to people because they're like an extended family.
"People ask me how big your family is and I say it's so big, there are thousands of people in it. We do what we love, but in the end it's the people. Our lives would be so boring without them."