The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

We're getting ready to sign the lease (we hope) in the next week or so for an 1860 square foot space in a tiny little business/industrial park in the San Francisco Bay Area that we hope to transform over the course of the next couple of years into a successful fine chocolate (bean-to-bar) and artisan confection business. 

Clay suggested the idea of starting a discussion thread here on Start-up Central as a way of sharing what we learn along the way with others either already involved in their own start-up or still contemplating jumping in. We really liked the idea -- it fits well with our commitment to always 'paying it forward' in life, and with the idea of one hand up, one hand down (one hand reaching up to accept the help/wisdom of others who have something to offer/share and one hand reaching down offering help/wisdom to those with whom we have somethign to offer/share). We'll share what goes right, we'll share what goes wrong -- open source, nothing held back or edited. We welcome your thoughts, questions and suggestions along the way.

Snapshot of where we are today:

- Custom molds are paid for (~$8k), but on hold until our trademark registration is approved (wouldn't be much fun to have molds that we can't use...). Hope to be cleared to move forward by January.

- $1400 trademark search with Thomson Compumark completed. The attorney has reviewed it and is now in the process of filing the registrations (another $1k +/-)

- We're a newly formed S-corp. (Total legal fees to date, including the above ~$4.5k)

- We've designed our packaging, but won't order it until our trademark clears.

- Leslie is going to be full-time, I'll be part-time (mainly on weekends) since I have a day job that (a) I like, and (b) will let us support/sustain the chocolate business through its first couple of years. We'll hire help as soon as the work load dictates.

- We subscribe to the Lean Start-up approach -- an iterative build, measure, learn process; pivot (change direction) when needed, etc. and to the idea (as articulated many times by Brad Churchill in his posts on this site) that making a profit isn't a 'nice-to-have', it is a 'MUST have'.

- Oh yeah, we make a pretty decent bean-to-bar chocolate. At least WE think so. And so do some (possibly biased) friends, family and co-workers. But we all think our own kids are cute, so just to be sure we're not kidding ourselves about where we really are, we're sending bars out this week for formal 3rd party evaluation (~$1k)

- We plan to spend a good part of the first year perfecting our systems. We're not going to scale to any kind of volume until we've worked the kinks out and are capable of delivering a consistently excellent (and profitable) experience to our customers.

- For manufacturing flexibility and resiliancy we plan on using multiple small scale pieces of equipment rather than single larger volume pieces.

- We know that we don't know what we don't know. We plan to contract with Clay for consulting services, both on the plant layout and on the business side.

- We're utilizing SCORE resources to learn more about the accouting, insurance, legal, and sales and marketing sides of the business, and to make contacts.

There's more, but you get the general idea...

Next major milestone for us is seeing if the landlord will accept our proposed lease addendum and mark-ups. That will be our next post...

Best,

David and Leslie

Views: 3919

Replies to This Discussion

Hi.

Thank-you for sharing your journey.  I am in a similar position and I am interested in why you chose your particular machines, i.e., the Moffat Turbofan oven and the FBM Aura tempering machine.  

Thank-you,

Paul Picton

Hi Paul,

First, congratulations on your own journey -- looking forward to hearing more and sharing notes along the way.

I chose the Moffat Turbofan for two reasons -- one, it has steam (important for pathogen kill and it MAY help with husk separation), and two, it has digital controls which are more precise and repeatable (although not necessarily more accurate) than the analog model. There's enough challenging in roasting in small batches that I'll take any help I can get.

On the FBM Aura, my main motivators were that it has metered dispensing, built-in vibration, and the cost is reasonable for what you get.

Interested in your thoughts if you have any other ideas on either of these...

All the best,

David

Hi.

Thank-you for the insight.  I was leaning towards a Henny Penny (or similar) rotisserie oven.  A custom basket would be required.  There seems to be a lot of discussion over the challenges of using a convection oven where the beans are laid out on a pan.

I have no real insight on the tempering machine.  I did talk to two people who have FBM machines who complained about the lack of product support (having to call Italy for assistance).  I am using a refurbished Hilliards Hand Coater.  No dispenser and no vibration but it was only $1200.

Thank-you,

Paul

Good info, Paul -- and a legitimate concern on the FBM (or any other complex piece of machinery) with regard to service/support. Good quality support is going to be a critical factor in our decision making process on any piece of equipment we select -- although I have worked on machines of different types in my past life, it's not my favorite thing in the world to do, nor will it be a good use of our very limited bandwidth. In general we're trying to keep things as simple as possible with as much redundancy as we can -- several smaller volume machines when we can as opposed to one larger machine that could bring the whole works to a stop.

Best,

David

 

Hi David,

I learned about you on Face Book threw clay putting it up on the news feed

I am on the other end the consumer end and look for new b2b or craft chocolate bars/I don't know which

would be the better term. I would be interested in knowing when you will be making the bars and tasting them

I will be in SF for the specialty food show and some of the other chocolate events going on that weekend in Jan.

Hi Adrienne,

We'll be at the specialty food show in SF, as well - might have the opportunity to meet up there if the timing works right.

We're getting our new space ready for inspections and permits right now, so we're not making any chocolate at the moment aside from a few test batches in our kitchen. We hope to have our permits in the February timeframe, then have our first bars ready for evaluation and purchase in the April/May timeframe.

Warmest Regards,

David

I will be there from Fri Jan 17 until the evening of the 20th going to the good food awards that Sat. morning and then volunteering at the FCIA that sat afternoon and food show that Sun. and Mon.

It would be nice to meet up.I would love to be able to try a test bar.

OK here are my chocolate questions

what is the name of your chocolate company?

What did you do before getting into this now and what single origin bars will you be making.I also like blended bars.

I work in the chocolate area of Food Emporium here in NYC

Hi Adrienne,

We'll bring some unofficial test bars (since we're not officially in business yet) for you when we come up in January -- we'd love to meet you. We'll be at the Fancy Food show on Saturday, then the FCIA on the 19th. Contact me privately and I'll give you my cell phone and/or e-mail.

Warmest Regards,

David

Hi David that would be wonderful

This is my email ahenson222@gmail.com

what is your email?

you can send me also your cell number in the email

I will be at the FCIA on the 18th and will be volunteering there to help out

david and leslie?

Many many congrats on the whole thing...especially the grand babies. I am only posting because I saw it on the chocolate life and you started this group on my 51st birthday. 12 years into this whole chocolate biz and 5 years down the bean to bar road I applaud you. Good luck and reach out personally anytime.

Thanks, Jeff...what could go better with grandkids (or just about anything else, for that matter) than chocolate?! You and your business are an inspiration to us -- we'd love to come visit you in your shop at some point. You're doing almost exactly what we would like to become when we grow up...

David and Leslie

We got the bid from the contractor last week. We were expecting something in the range of $8-10k based on earlier conversations. Nope. $20k.  We were prepared for a little bit of upside, but not quite that much. We’re going to break the project up into two phases now – sealing/painting the floors, painting the walls, sinks/plumbing, one new door on this go-around. We’re going to re-evaluate the need for a wall (with a door) that we wanted built, and for the drop ceiling in the kitchen area. That will take this first phase down to about $7k which is more manageable at the moment. It sounds like our contractor will be able to get started week after next, and would like to finish it up before the holidays. Music to our ears.

 

On the chocolate front we’ve made some nice progress on our particle size courtesy of the micrometer and the microscope. Sugar seems to be the bigger issue for us -- the particle size of the sugar is consistently bigger than that of the cocoa solids. Even though we run the sugar in the food processor to reduce the particle size, it's still bigger than we would like. We’re starting with regular granulated sugar right now, but we’re going to switch to bakers sugar (smaller particle size out of the bag) on our next few batches and see how that works – any thoughts??

 

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