PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - If you can't find what you're looking for at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Exchange store on Gigling Road at Ord Military Community, you might find it at one of the neighboring AAFES mall shops.

Some of the businesses tucked snugly in leased spaces at the mall are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs who want to market their wares to the military community.

One such enterprise, the Chocolate Dipper, is a store well-stocked with confections and floral arrangements, all hand-made locally. Manager Amy Frost said the store had housed a floral shop run by a previous owner until businesswoman Tina Vanderplume leased it from AAFES last December. Frost said Vanderplume owns the original Chocolate Dipper in Salinas and opened the AAFES mall outlet as "The Chocolate Dipper 2nd Location."

"Our chocolates are all handmade in the Salinas store," Frost said. "And we provide floral items that are now being sold at the Salinas store."

Frost said gift baskets, bouquets and customized floral centerpieces for banquets, weddings and other special occasions are among the store's specialties. Another specialty is Hawaiian-style floral leis that are gaining in popularity at school graduations.

"And of course we have holiday items," she said. "All we ask is a few days notice to prepare them."

Handmade caramel apples are another store specialty.

"Selling our caramel apples is a great way to raise funds," Frost said. "Some of our best caramel apple customers are schools and athletic teams."

Frost said customers can order Chocolate Dipper products to be shipped anywhere in the United States for a flat fee of $10.

AAFES customers who are holders of the Military Shoppers' STAR Card get a break on financing home furnishings at Furniture Avenue, a shop opened about one year ago by Murat Sari.

No down payment is required of Military STAR Card holders who commit to a minimum $299 purchase at Furniture Avenue, said manager Reha Tosunoglu. In addition, Tosunoglu said, STAR Card holders are eligible to go six months with no interest, before initial payments become due.

"We have furniture for every room of a home," Tosunoglu said, pointing out that the store is arranged accordingly, with living room, bedroom and dining room pieces displayed together. He said low overhead and a narrow profit margin allow bargain pricing of the store's inventory of tables, chairs, beds, mattresses, sofas and other furniture items and accessories. The store's variety of styles is intended to accommodate the varied tastes and preferences of military customers.

"But If we don't have what a customer wants, we can order it," Tosunoglu added.
To help celebrate the opening of OMC's newest residential community, Furniture Avenue customers who reside in Doe Park are eligible for a 10-percent discount, Tosunoglu said.

Grilled chicken is the best-selling dish at Chong's Korean Barbecue, said Donald Woolley from behind the counter of the mall's only restaurant enterprise. Woolley and his wife Kristen, whose Korean name is the eponymous Chong, started the business three years ago after several years in professional food service.

Chong's is open Tuesday through Saturday (closed Sundays and Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., serving sirloin, chicken, pork and salmon grilled Korean-style, along with rice and tofu side dishes. A vegan platter is available. Korean-style pancakes and soup are also on the menu. Diners can choose a table inside the restaurant or outside near the front entrance.

Woolley said his wife supervises the kitchen and has earned a reputation as a popular local chef.

"A video crew did a tape when she was cooking at the Castroville Artichoke Festival a few years ago," Woolley said. "The video was shown on the Food Network."

Additionally, Chong's has extended its operation to the Presidio of Monterey. Several of its menu items are sold from tables placed near the entrance of the Presidio Post Exchange during lunchtime Monday through Friday. Also, a Chong's vending truck makes a lunchtime stop at mid-Presidio on Wednesdays at the Quad near the Berlin Wall Memorial.