I started Carter's Chocolates about three years ago in a small town in Washington State.
I had gone to a pastry school back in the 90's, then worked as a pastry chef, managed a bakery, then was a restaurant server for a few years before doing Sales for 4 years. Then I decided to stop working so hard, and set out to create my own chocolate shop, where I could work for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and make just enough money to be happy...
Three years of 12 hour days later... I know better ! I was getting part of a day off maybe once a month, although I am trying hard to take one full day off every week now. Hopefully that will keep me from being too hard on the staff.
I started out just making truffles. Customers insisted that I make Caramels, so I started doing them, and then my own pecan caramel turtles, then Crunchy Frogs, and a few more fun things like that. Peanut butter cups, Smores bars... chocolate dipped Candied Ginger flies off the shelf.
Going to Farmer's Markets in the summer and having to pack the chocolates back into the coolers about noon when things were starting to get melty, was when I started making Ice Cream as well. That first summer was when I learned that Ice Cream and Chocolate are a great compliment to each other. My Chocolate sales are strong all winter, with one Chocolate Holiday after another. Then in the summer, all you need is a good location and a sign for Homemade Ice Cream to fill up your store with customers. And in the new location, Ice Cream customers coming in are increasing the chocolate sales as well.
I have a small staff, and very little machinery. From the little time that I have spent so far on this wonderful forum, it seems that everyone else is using tempering machines.
I don't have a budget for expensive equipment, so I can't afford a Hilliard or Selmi, and the Chocovision that I bought, well, I just don't like the results, and the attempts I have made to use it took up lots of my time. We manage to get several hundred truffles dipped in a day just going in and out of the microwave in pyrex bowls.
I have done little Tasting Nights at my old shop, using a conference room in the Mall. We would sample several single origin chocolates, (chocovic's three single bean, maybe a Pralus and always a couple of Amano) drink a glass of red wine, then pair some of my truffles with some dessert wines ~ all while talking about history, growing and production of chocolate, etc. I even did that presentation in front of 200 people at a Chef's Association meeting one night. I always feel out of my depth, as I have never been to visit a cacao plantation, I have only seen maybe three pods, and the closest thing I have done to production of actual chocoalte is take the tour of Theo in fremont.
All my education other than actually making truffles, has come from books. I have as many books as I can find, but the best ones that I like are Maricel Presilla's New Taste of Chocolate and the Cohen's True History of Chocolate. Fortunately for me, 99% of the people have a very limited knowledge of chocolate, so for them it is still educational.
One day I will be able to afford a trip to some chocolate producing islands in the Caribbean. I would love to visit the genebank in Trinidad, for instance.
I will be in awe of the knowledge contained in this group of people, and plan to get lots of ideas and technical assistance here.
Now that I know this group exists, I am sure that I'll be here asking stupid questions all the time!