NEWTOWN SQUARE–Those delectable coconut balls rolled in cinammon are a tradition for many in the area and beyond in the Phiadelphia region. An Irish celebration wouldn't be the same without popping one of those sweet treats on St. Patrick's Day, or any other day throughout the year.
You've probably seen them in supermarkets like Acme, Giant and Superfresh as well as Swiss Farms and BJ's wholesale stores, that half-pound box of Oh Ryan's famous Irish potatoes can't be missed.
Patch tracked down the origins of these delicious delights, only to discover local Newtown Square chocolate shop to be the creator. Not only are they the creators of Oh Ryan's Irish potatoes, but they are the world's largest producer of Irish potatoes.
Shop owners Laurel and David Lamparelli of Christopher Chocolates named the store after their first son Christopher and Oh Ryan's Irish potatoes after Christopher's younger brother Ryan.
"Ryan is so Irish that it just worked," shared Laurel about why she and her husband named the famous potatoes after their younger son.
But Oh Ryan's potatoes started when Lamparelli's parents moved from upstate New York to get away from the long snowy season to Newtown Square. When Christopher Chocolates opened up 25 years ago, locals would ask for Irish potatoes at their store.
Not knowing what they were, "no one in the family had an idea of what it was," said Christopher, the family used a standard "coconut cream" recipe from their friends at Lucille's Own Make Candy Shop in Manahawkin, NJ. Although the recipe has changed over the years, the rest was history.
"We're always tweaking the recipe," said Christopher.
As the shop grew, Oh Ryan's grew as well. The shop bought a warehouse in Edgemont to produce the potatoes and chocolates. They stayed there for about 10 years before they moved to a bigger factory in Linwood, where all their production is currently done.
Some of Christopher's favorite memories of the Irish potatoes happened during those early days when each coconut ball was hand-rolled in cinnamon.
"I've grown up on Irish potatoes," said Christopher. "I used play Super Nintendo in the back of the factory when they used to hand roll the potatoes. We would come out of there smelling like cinnamon for days."
Now, the factory uses a modified donut-holer to create the coconut balls and can produce about 2,000 pounds a day.
Since the beginning of the year, Christopher Chocolates has produced just over 65,000 pounds of Irish potatoes or 130,000 boxes or a little over a million individual potatoes, said Christopher.
To this day, he's still not quite sure where the sweet Irish potatoes really originated from but theory has it that the original Irish immigrants who settled in Philadelphia made the sweet snacks out of real mashed potatoes with sugar and rolled in cinnamon.
The recipe today calls for 96 percent sugar, shredded coconut, imported cinnamon and butter.
According to Christopher, the shop now sells them in the District of Columbia, Virginia and ships them throughout the nation.
But only at the Newtown Square location is where you can actually meet the family behind Oh Ryan's and a bonus feature is their traditional Irish potatoes covered in dark chocolate, which is only sold at their store.