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Chocolate Shop to Open in Downtown Covington

The nineteenth anniversary of the relationship between William Poole and Loren Penton was not relaxing.

It was incredibly busy.

Months earlier the Food Network and celebrity chef Paula Deen's sons had visited the couple's Denver chocolate shop, Wen. Poole and Penton were never told when the segment would air.

Or that it would be fifteen minutes long.

Or that five minutes into the airing, five thousand orders would be placed.

Eventually, the pair had to shut down Wen's website at 25,000 orders. The TV success would repeat as the segment was re-run thirteen times and Wen was mentioned on other Food Network specials, even by Paula Deen herself.

"When I stood up at City Hall and said we would make Covington a destination for our chocolate, I wasn't joking," Penton said.

The couple celebrated their 26th anniversary over Labor Day Weekend, this time in Covington where they moved a year ago. An opportunity to acquire a candy business was attractive to them so they began to pack up their home in Salem, Oregon, where they had moved after Denver, and began to look for a home in the Cincinnati area.

The Salem house went on the market and sold right away.

Then, the candy business deal fell through.

But Penton and Poole still needed to move out of the house that they had just sold. Taking a chance, they decided to follow through with the plans to move to the Cincinnati area and after checking out several neighborhoods, they chose to live in the City of Covington.

"It just reminds me of all of the historic parts of any city that we've lived in," Poole said of Covington, a glowing compliment from a man who has taken up residence in San Francisco, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Denver, Omaha, Salem, and even parts of Europe. Penton lived in Australia at one point in their relationship which began when Penton's government job took him to Phoenix in 1987. He met Poole on the first night and they have been together ever since.

And now a new opportunity has brought them to Covington, a city they for which they already feel great affection.

"It just has a feeling to it that needs to be brought out," Poole said.

The men settled in the Austinburg neighborhood in a good-sized Victorian home on Scott Boulevard. The house has been beautifully preserved but the couple has been busy adding their own personal touches and updates, though a great deal less work than their renovation job on a 130-year old bed and breakfast in New Orleans that was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina and neglect.

Now they have set their vision upon another neglected nineteenth century building, the former Bottoms Up bar on Fifth Street in Downtown Covington, a property acquired by the city in 2010 that shut down a business considered by its neighbors to be a nuisance.

Last week, the Covington City Commission approved the sale of the building to Poole and Penton, operating as Red Mare Holdings (managed by Penton), for one dollar. The couple's new chocolate business, called Fortvna (Fortuna, with the Latin-style "v" in place of the "u"), will be managed and operated by Poole.

Contingencies of the deal include that the city will hold the first mortgage on the property, which is valued at $17,500, and will release that mortgage once Red Mare remediates the mold, repairs the roof, renovates the retail space, and opens Fortvna.

The city will also hold a long-term lease for three spaces in the adjacent city-owned parking lot.

Poole and Penton expect to use $96,000 of cash on hand to rehab the building, which has two possible apartment spaces above the retail space, and may seek a loan or city facade grant assistance for the remaining work.

Redevelopment of the first block of East Fifth Street is an important step in improving the gateways to and through Covington, city leaders said last week.

With their long track record of success in business and preservation that has taken them across the country and the globe, Poole and Penton are excited to get started on the next opportunity.

"Our philosophy is to never bypass an opportunity, no matter what it may be," Penton said. "Once in a lifetime really is once in a lifetime."

"It's all about the journey," Poole said. "This is where we need to be."

Poole's classical chef training and his specialization in confections will create a unique sweet shop in Fortvna. This won't be the latest trendy chocolate shop. "There will be no bacon-in-the-chocolate nonsense," he laughed. "We don't follow trends, we make them."

The couple will design the space to harken back to turn-of-the-century candy stores with modern touches. They plan to salvage the tin ceiling in the space where beautifully crafted chocolates will be displayed and sold alongside some hard-to-find imported candies.

Some of Poole's recipes are derived from a fifteenth century journal entry in which the writer attempted to create a love spell. "There's a story with most everything we make," Poole said.

He will also use only natural ingredients. "Chocolate should be a treat. It's not a food group," Poole said. "And it's OK to spoil yourself with a very small thing."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: The building that will eventually be home to Fortvna/RCN