Love at First Bite, A Whitman Valentine’s Day Story

The holiday season filled with flowers, heart-shaped candies and sweet chocolates is right around the corner, but for Ryan ’11 and Christie Novak ’11, Valentine’s Day means much more than one day out of the year for a few reasons. 

At just 15 years old, Valentine’s Day and the sweet chocolates sold on that day mattered to Ryan. At that age, Ryan began working for a small chocolate shop in Marcellus, New York, called Chocolate Pizza Company. When he started as a dishwasher at the company, he never thought anything more of it than a part-time job until six years later, as a senior undergraduate at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, when Ryan was offered the company for himself. 

An entrepreneurship student eager to graduate and enter the real world, Ryan’s future as a business owner started before he even received his diploma. Ten years later, Ryan continues his passion for sweet treats and successful business producing 250,000 pounds of chocolate a year. Each holiday, the Chocolate Pizza Company has served customers for almost three decades with its trademarked items, Chocolate Pizza® and Peanut Butter Wings®.

With the holiday season right around the corner, Chocolate Pizza Company and other small chocolate distributors are beginning to prepare products to keep up with the holiday demand. The company has been preparing to serve both local customers of Upstate New York and major corporate customers for the past three months. For Ryan and the team at Chocolate Pizza Company, the gourmet chocolate product and quality of service supersedes any worries during the holiday to compete with other distributors. More than ever, Ryan appreciates the returning customers every single year that trust and love the company’s products.

“There were customers I knew when I was 15 and washing dishes who came to the store and continue to come every February years later,” says Ryan. 

When operating a small business, no day is the same, according to Ryan. As the owner, he can assist in every aspect of the company and has seen so much growth since he first bought it. With a high demand during the busy season, though, Ryan must depend heavily on his close-knit team and business partner, also known as his wife, to get the job done.

Christie Novak, an adjunct faculty member at Whitman, is also the CFO of the Chocolate Pizza Company alongside her husband. Christie first met Ryan while studying accounting at the Whitman School. While they were dating, Ryan was offered to buy the company, so the two embarked on the journey together.

“We both leaped in knowing we were together and looking for a great experience,” says Christie. While the two were young and unsure of what to do at the moment, they quickly adjusted to the role of business owners and grew into it. “What started as a passion and a dream turned into an extremely successful company,” she adds.

For the Novaks, they have created a business that is their own to do what they love and serve their customers with the best possible product. While the hours can be long and the work can be overwhelming, Ryan and Christie put smiles on people’s faces all year round with their signature Chocolate Pizza products and other sweet treats. At the end of each day, the company’s mission is an easy sell, Christie says. “I mean, who doesn’t like sending people chocolate?”

Learn more about Whitman alumni in the latest alumni profiles.

Karley Warden