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Boris Dvinsky ’06

Paul Conforti’s goal is not to become as pervasive as a Starbucks on every corner, but to emulate the company’s success at persuading customers to opt for higher quality — and to provide that choice.

“It’s true that it can cost $15 per person at Finale,” says Conforti. “But it’s $15. It’s not $50 or $100. Maybe instead of going to Applebee’s for dinner, you eat in, but then come to Finale for dessert.” And, he adds, breaking into a smile, “for $15, we can make you feel like a million bucks.”

Visits to Finale, primarily the Cambridge branch, make it clear Conforti has a point. The Molten Chocolate Cake earns its “to die for” rave, and even the pre-made treats at the bakery counter are excellent. The Ultimate Chocolate Cake, which seems to reveal a hint of cherry, and the Dark Chocolate Decadence cake, a creation akin to a truffle, are dangerously addictive and cost $6 for a solid piece three inches in diameter.

Conforti and his colleagues have also been bolstered by a large helping of positive media. Since 1998 Finale has been covered or reviewed in the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, Time, USA Today, U.S.News & World Report, Bon Appetit, and Business Week. The company also earned an endorsement carrying more weight than just about any other in New England when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, cited Finale as one of his favorite places to eat in the Boston area, deeming it “cool” in an interview for American Airlines’ in-flight magazine.

Finale managed to gain some more yardage from the Brady connection with the quarterback’s Visa commercials featuring Finale desserts. Meanwhile, several Boston Red Sox players have patronized the place — outfielder Manny Ramirez has stopped by to pick up desserts for his family on his way home after ball games. A variety of other celebrities have been spotted in Finale as well, including actors John Lithgow, Charles Durning, and Dana Delaney. Even in Boston, which has some entrenched, prominent eateries, Finale may be on its way to becoming a local institution.

If Finale is flourishing now, though, Conforti and Moore still face the same types of questions as any business looking to expand. Is there a nationwide market for upscale “desserteries”? Or has Finale set its sights a bit high by looking to the example of Starbucks? The coffee chain giant, after all, has more than 11,000 stores in 36 countries. Conforti’s goal is not to become as pervasive as a Starbucks on every corner, but to emulate the company’s success at persuading customers to opt for higher quality — and to provide that choice.

In fact, in the restaurant industry, Finale is following a familiar pattern. A nationwide chain often starts out as a popular local eatery, establishes a strong reputation over many years, then expands locally and regionally. If a company has a good idea and good timing, it might succeed nationally. Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971 and remained a local operation until 1987, when it still had a grand total of just 17 outlets. One of Starbucks’ competitors, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, opened as one cafe in Berkeley, Calif., in 1966, and is now a publicly traded company with more than 120 outlets and customers intensely loyal to the brand.

Conforti thinks Finale can settle somewhere in between these two business models. “Are we going to have 11,000 locations?” he asks. “Probably not. We’ve been doing this eight years and we have three branches. But can we open a few hundred of these? I think so.”

Conforti and Moore envision Finale having outlets in the 75 biggest metropolitan areas in the country. Indeed, adds Conforti, “That’s why I’m interested in trying Providence. It is just about the 75th biggest market in the country. And it’s close. We can supply Providence from here. If we opened our next location in Omaha, hundreds of miles from the next-largest city, it might be a lot harder.”

But could it be that Boston — a relatively affluent city with a host of upscale restaurants and a lot of “foot traffic” — is especially well-suited for a place like Finale? Conforti doubts it, asserting the concept should work all over. “Everybody loves dessert,” he says. “Even those who say they don’t like it can be tempted to give a sensational dessert a try.”

Which means a Finale could be opening in a city near you in the future. Prepare to go back to school in dessert appreciation.

Finale Double Chocolate Cookies
Executive Pastry Chef Nicole Coady

You’ll never make brownies again after you indulge in Double Chocolate Cookies from Finale. Some helpful tips in maximizing cookie enjoyment: Use the best chocolate you can find. It will seem like a lot of chocolate, but that is no mistake. The cookies cannot be stored for a long period of time. As this is a delicate recipe, they are best when consumed within 24 hours of baking. Avoid over baking. They will taste dry and powdery, when they are supposed to be moist and chewy.

6 eggs
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
17 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler until blended. In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sugar, and vanilla until thick and light. In another bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. Slowly add chocolate mixture to egg mixture on low speed. Fold in flour mixture slowly. The cookie batter will be liquid. Allow to sit for three hours at room temperature.

Scoop heaping tablespoons onto cookie sheet that has been lightly sprayed with a non-stick spray, at least 3 inches apart. Bake on a doubled cookie sheet (one sheet inside of another) at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until the center of the cookie is firm to the touch (cake-like firmness). Finale Double Chocolate Cookies should be baked as close to serving time as possible. Yields 3 to 4 dozen cookies.

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