Tom Sciascia ’86 Realizes His Dream Job: From Graphic Designer to Gourmet Chocolatier
Tom Sciascia ’86 grew up in an Italian family…a very Italian family. You know, the kind where when you walk through the kitchen door you’re instantly greeted by sweet-smelling aromas of freshly baked breads, spices, and homemade desserts. Sciascia’s grandfather was a butcher and the owner of a restaurant and liquor store; his mother was the chef at that restaurant. “It was in the blood,” said Sciascia of his culinary aptitude, recalling the hundreds of cookies that his mother would make around Christmastime.
“I was so happy when she gave me things to do, maybe to shut me up, or keep me busy, but I was in my glory chopping nuts, or shoving butter cookie batter into the cookie press, or dipping her wedding cake cookies in white, pink, or blue confectionary icing and decorating the tops with coconut.”
But Sciascia, who graduated from Arcadia with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, did not immediately carve out a path in the world of artisanal gourmet chocolates. His early career was based on a different kind of art form, one that he perfected under the “tough and relentless” eye of Dennis Kuronen, an artist and sculptor who taught graphic arts at Arcadia from 1979 until 1994, chairing the Fine Arts Department from 1988 to 1993.
“‘What’s your concept?’ was his line, and we lived or died by that line! He hated ‘frou-frou.’ We learned to appreciate how great designs were built on solid ideas. To this day, even though I now use chocolate as my medium, I create my confections and truffles the same way used to approach a design project. The concept always comes first.”
During his senior year, Sciascia met Loren Shuman Sciascia ’86, who was studying marketing at Arcadia and shared his enthusiasm for the graphic design business. They talked about working as a team one day; he on the design front, and she being responsible for accounting and marketing. As fate would have it, their compatibility ascended beyond the workplace and found them returning to their alma mater to wed in Grey Towers Castle—Sciascia’s “sanctuary” as a student. “I was in awe when walking through the spectacular landmark work of architect Horace Trumbauer. He was a genius. The detail of the woodwork, the symmetry of design, the grandeur of the space, the stone-carved gargoyles (which I based my senior thesis on) were sublime to me. I loved to close my eyes and picture myself stepping back in time when the Castle was a home and imagine what it must have been like to live there.”
After gaining professional experience in their respective fields, the Sciascias launched Gargoyle Communications, a design studio with client lists ranging from local companies like Binney and Smith to international firms like Deloitte and software giant SAP. The duo prospered in their career up until the tragic events that shook the nation on September 11, 2001. “Our graphic design business quite literally changed overnight. Many of our clients stopped advertising, budgets were frozen, and things came to a halt… I knew things were going to change, but I didn’t know to what extent.”
That December, when the Sciascias would have been sending their clients gifts to show their appreciation, decided buying presents was not the appropriate route. Instead, they sought to send something a little more sentimental and familiar, something that would elicit a measure of happiness during a particularly fragile time. Recalling the days spent in his mother’s kitchen, Sciascia whipped out his cookbooks, which, he admits, had been collecting dust for some time, and decided to recreate his mother’s chocolate truffle recipes.
His clients were instantly smitten with the lavish pastries and truffles that he was able to compose, and wanted to know how they could obtain more. It was then that the genesis of Sciascia Confections came into focus. Before it developed into the bustling, award-winning artisanal chocolate retail company that it is today, however, it was called The Painted Truffle. They tested out their flavor-packed concoctions on local businesses and buyers for retailers like Di Bruno Brothers, eventually striking the palate of the Four Seasons in Philadelphia who readily made Sciascia’s chocolates their exclusive gift-shop truffles brand. As the doors opened and business grew, The Painted Truffle adopted a new name and, with it, strategic direction.
“My vision for Sciascia Confections is to keep creating new confections that reflect my past, are infused with new experiences, and touch people as they travel on their journey.”
Sciascia was recently named 2015 Best Chocolatier in Hunterdon County. In 2009, he was named Best Chocolatier by Main Line Magazine.
You can find the Sciascias—and their divine creations—at the Stockton Market (not far from Lambertville and Frenchtown, N.J.) on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For more information on Sciascia Confections, visit www.sciasciaconfections.com.
Sciascia’s advice for undergrads interested in entrepreneurship and following a passion
“It is plain and simple: you have to be in love with what you do each and every day of your life. You have to have a reason to wake up in the morning. You have to be a person people want to be around, so that means you have to be happy with the shoes you are wearing. If your shoes don’t fit, get a new pair. Have humility, be empathetic, and have respect. We get one chance to dance, so if you are driven to pursue what you are passionate about, life will unfold as it should…”
Ten years from now:
“My ‘Magic 8 Ball’ is coming up with ‘Cannot predict now.’ The truth is, I’m looking forward to where this journey will take me, and I just might find myself wanting to try on a new pair of shoes.”
Catch up on past Alumni Spotlight stories.