Parents Talk Back

When Love and Chocolate Collide

When Phillip Stallone asked his future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he faced an important question.

“Do you have any debt?” he was asked.

Stallone, 29 at the time, confessed to carrying a gasoline credit card and a house account at Bissinger’s, a gourmet chocolatier. It was an unusual answer, but Stallone’s appreciation for fine chocolates started young.

As a young boy, his father used to take him along when he visited a car dealership in St. Louis’ Central West End. Bissinger’s was across the street, and his dad would drop him off there while he chatted with the dealer about old cars. It was the only Rolls Royce dealer in the state, Stallone remembers.

Stallone would tell the sales clerks in the shop that he was just hanging out, waiting for his dad, and they would offer him a free sample from their bowl.

“What do you think?” they would ask.

It was the best chocolate he’d ever tasted. It was a smart strategy: Exposing a young child to the finer things in life is a good way to create an expensive lifelong habit. Stallone never forgot the taste of those treats.

Years later, when he was a teenager and had his first job, he went back to buy a sample pack as a gift for his mother. The box cost more than he was making at the time. The store clerk said he could come back and pay for it on Saturday -- payday.

The glory of a house account was realized that day.

There was something great about being able to walk into a chocolate shop, indulge in gourmet dark chocolate and say, “Just put it on my account,” he said. (Recently, a store clerk asked him if it was possible to just pay with a credit card.)

He worked at Stallone’s Formal Wear, which had been established by his grandfather in 1899. There was a dry cleaner next door, and a young woman stopped by to visit her friends who worked there. They struck up a friendship over the years, and he took her to his favorite chocolate shop during their courtship.

“When you are eating a box of chocolate with someone you dearly love, it makes a difference,” he said.

There’s a scientific explanation why this melt-in-your-mouth treat feels so good. Eating chocolate releases a host of delightful neurotransmitters. First, there’s the caffeine that causes a quickening of the heart rate. There is also another stimulant, theobromine, in chocolate. Then, add a bit of serotonin, a natural mood-lifter, which the body makes from the amino acid tryptophan. Chocolate contains both serotonin and tryptophan. You can also find anandamide in the fat in chocolate, which activates a receptor that causes dopamine production.

With this rush of feel-good chemicals flooding our system, it only makes sense that romantic love would be intensified. And Stallone loved giving good chocolate as much as eating it. Once he gave his 6-year-old niece an 11-pound chocolate bunny for Easter.

“Her mother and father were about ready to skin me alive,” he laughed. “But talk about a head-turner.”

In the late ‘80s, he bought his wife a three-pound box of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. He brings the original heart box into Bissinger’s every year, where they refill it and write the date on the back. One year he nearly forgot, until a store clerk left a message saying she needed his heart. His secretary was a little concerned by the note.

“She thought I had a medical problem,” he said. But he raced down to the shop the morning of Feb. 13 and watched while they filled his heart box on the spot.

He had a hunch his wife would share his love of sweets, based on her father’s reaction to his debt “confession” many years ago. His future father-in-law hugged him and gave them his blessing.

Stallone married Candace Dower 42 years ago this July.

He calls her Candy.

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