NORTHPORT, New York -- The Northport Sweet Shop has been in this quaint fishing village on Long Island's North Shore since 1929, cradled in the caring hands of the Panarites family since day one.
Stepping inside is like entering a world that is largely confined to the history books of yesterday's downtowns, but it's all very much part of the present at the sweet shop.
You'll find a luncheonette serving up treats like homemade ice cream, glass candy display cases teeming with chocolates made in the shop's kitchen, and cozy booths to enjoy it all with family and friends.
Year round, this is a magical place, but it is especially so at Easter. The time leading up to the holiday is a busy one here, with owner Pete Panarites himself making the chocolate bunnies and other sweet goodies. They are created from cherished recipes and set in classic molds, true antiques that have been in the family for generations.
"We use quality chocolate," said Panarites. "Don't sacrifice quality, and I always followed that concept," said Panarites about the philosophy he carries on from his dad, George.
The sweet shop is a family affair, with Panarites running the shop along with his sister, Georgia Pappias; her son, John Pappias; and her daughter, Marlene Niehaus.
"It's not an easy thing. It's 24/7 around the clock ... my uncle's been making the rabbits since November. He makes them all by hand here, each one individually, so they are all unique in their own way," Niehaus said.
(Be sure to watch the video to see the chocolate-making process, and learn about the historic molds the family uses.)
The shop was founded by George Panarites, a Greek immigrant who schooled himself in the confectionery and ice cream trade in Astoria, Queens before setting up shop in Northport just as the Great Depression began.
Pete Panarites started to work here at 13, and became a pupil of his father, whom he describes as a tough man with a heart of gold.
The shop has always been a second home to Pete.
"It's my life. It's part of me, let me put it that way. I'm 81, and people say, "When are you going to retire," said Panarites, shrugging off the question. "When you get older, you get bumps in the road. But you don't let that slow you down. And that's what keeps me going."
Panarites is grateful for the help of his family members, who each wear different hats, from whipping up ice cream to making the seasonal decorations to marketing the shop, all to keep things as sweet as ever.
If you hear the word "sweet" a lot around here, it's second only to "family." Both are what keep customers returning year after year.
"We've been coming to the sweet shop for 47 years. We brought our children here and now we bring our grandchildren here," said customer John Deveau. "It's so unique. There's only a couple places on Long Island that still exist" that are like the sweet shop, whose vintage storefront hasn't changed since the end of World War II.
Customer Lynn Leonard has been enjoying the comfort food here since she moved to town 23 years ago, when her son, Jack, was just an infant. The other day, she was sitting in a booth with her son, she nursing an iced tea and he enjoying a milkshake.
"What a great memory for these kids to have. You feel like family," Leonard said.