Jackie, Frank, Liza and Dina Know How Sweet It Is at New York's Swanky Plumbridge
Where did Jacqueline Bouvier buy Valentine's candy when she was a girl growing up in Manhattan? She headed—as Mrs. Onassis still does—for Plumbridge, the Cartier of confectioners. Ever since Charles Plumbridge opened his doors to the carriage trade in 1883, the shop has been catering to old-line New York families like the Roosevelts, the Belmonts and the Fricks.
These days Plumbridge's social register clientele is being supplemented by Hollywood celebrities who order by mail and phone and can easily afford the high prices. One showbiz customer ran up a $14,000 tab for goodies during the Christmas season.
This is all sweet news to proprietor Douglas Petrillo, a 57-year-old former ad man. His mother-in-law, Madelyn Hoey, purchased the store from the Plumbridge family in 1947. Twenty years later Petrillo quit his job as an art director at Young & Rubicam and bought her out.
Paul Anka was one of the first showbiz types to discover Plumbridge, in 1974. "He is like a kid about candy," says Petrillo. "He gives us a budget and we send out hundreds and hundreds of holiday gifts for him." Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli are nuts about the spiced pecans made daily in the kitchen at the back of the store. The Kirk Douglases order candy coffee beans and dragées (chocolate-covered nuts and fruits), both at $10 a pound.
Ingenious packaging—which ranges from a tiny $2.50 heart-shaped chrome box for cinnamon candy to a 19th-century Chinese porcelain bowl filled with jelly beans at $1,250—accounts for much of the store's appeal. Claudette Colbert always requests her rocket sours in Chinese sea-grass baskets. The late cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post preferred a 10-inch-high cabinet whose drawers contain nine different kinds of candy. At $50, it is still the favorite item of Post's daughter, actress Dina Merrill.
"Before we make up gift orders," Petrillo explains, "we want to know everything about the recipients, what they like, whether they own a horse farm or a yacht. We are so finicky we even have major debates about what kinds of ribbon to put on the packages." Of all the vast caloric inventory at Plumbridge's, what do the Petrillos carry back home to Montvale, N.J.? "None of it," Doug confesses. "We don't enjoy sweets."
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