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

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Replies to This Discussion

Oh, the things you learn as you’re going the process of starting your first business…! We’re getting more than just a passing familiarity with the permitting requirements for everything from occupancy to business to health department. Acronyms like NSF now flow off our tongues like melted chocolate. The whole process can be intimidating and almost overwhelming at times, but Winter Warlock (From ‘Santa Clause is Coming to Town’) always comes to out rescue at the last minute – “put one foot in front of the other…”. We’re actually starting to see little glimmers of light up ahead – with a little luck we’ll finally be moving some of our equipment into our space in early January, and may even be making some test batches (not saleable) by the end of January. Grease Trap, $200. Leasehold improvements (Phase I), $7k. Making your first bar of chocolate (even if you can’t sell it) in your own factory – PRICELESS!

 

; )

Things are continuing to move along nicely this week -- the contractor is almost done painting the walls -- the place looks completely different now -- really nice. Next up is epoxy painting the floor in what will be the 'clean' side of the operation (post-winnowing processes). Our stainless sink, fixtures, grease trap and two work tables came in today. We'll get these put together and installed after the floor is done. Lots of work still to do -- new ceiling tiles in a couple of small rooms, some electrical, water heater -- the list goes on. We're hoping to be through this first (and biggest) part of the improvements by mid January. After that we'll order our oven and a couple of other small pieces of equipment. If all goes well we'll send in our PFR and schedule our health department inspection by the end of January. It's getting exciting!

Happy holidays to one and all,

David and Leslie

Hi David

Its great to hear of your journey so far. I am doing the same, I took the keys to a space on Dec 16 and am gearing up to move in. I was lucky to find a 50m2 space which used to be a laboratory so the floors, walls, grease trap etc are already in. I'm putting in three phase power and aircon. I plan to use a coffee roaster instead of oven and have 2 x 20lt melangeurs, and a FBM Compatta for tempering. Still waiting on packaging and mold design. I hope to be selling commercially in 6 months. In the meantime I can make and age the chocolate. Biggest headache is the cooling and like you I am making a cooling "Tabinet" tunnel/cabinet with a 6.5Kw air conditioner.

Regarding the tempering machine, if i could buy again I would go for a machine that does three point tempering rather than two point (the Unica?). It gives much more control over a very critical point in the production. And a bigger working bowl. I also found FBM support to be no problem, I had an issue when first using the machine and it was resolved rapidly (considering they are in Italy).

Regarding particle size, Stephen Beckett in his book "industrial chocolate manufacture and use" dedicates a whole chapter to the subject. What I got from it was that particle size is important for flow and sensory properties, but the preference between uniform (roll refined) and random (melangeur) particle size is not really biased any way. And in some cases random is preferred. Read it and make your own mind up. (It certainly wasn't enough to make me want a roll refiner). Another kettle of fish is that if you roll refine you also need to conch separately because you end up with a dry mix, another machine, another expense. Plenty of chocolate makers doing just fine with the melangeurs. I have  micrometer to measure size but find I don't use it much and just use taste/mouthfeel.

Look forward to reading more on your developments

Fred

Hi Fred,

Congratulations on your new venture, as well. I'm looking forward to trading notes as we go -- sounds like we're in pretty much the same place. Your thoughts on temperers got my attention -- very good point on the 3-pt vs 2-pt, and something I hadn't even thought of (wrongly assumed that they all did 3-pt or at least had the option to do so). I was originally looking at the Aura, but I think at start-up we're just going to go with a couple of Chocovision machines, then when business outgrows them we'll upgrade to something like what you're talking about.

I have Beckett's book -- I'll be (re)reading the chapter you mentioned this weekend. I read the book a long time ago, but it was before any of this was on my radar scope in any serious way. We've made some good progress lately on our particle size and mouthfeel, and I agree with you that sensory perception is the best guide. I did/do find the micrometer and microscope handy, though, for validating and helping to explain what I think I'm sensing sometimes.

Please keep us updated on your journey, and we'll do the same with ours. 

Best Wishes,

David and Leslie

We've taken a couple of weeks off from writing due to the holidays, FCIA meeting, getting together with friends...life! We've also been making chocolate in our expansive 50 square foot interim factory (our home kitchen) and working on recipes. Needless to say we're ready to graduate to something a little more suitable (read as: bigger) for the task at hand.

The shopping is coming along and starting to look pretty nice. The floors are epoxy coated, the walls painted, the electrical will be done tomorrow. The sink was going to be installed this weekend, but that didn't work out due to a lack of legs -- apparently they didn't make it onto the truck with the rest of the order. We're going to order our oven tomorrow (3-week lead time) and hopefully find out when our sink might get its legs. Next up is building a bean cleaning / sorting table and a cooling tray, then setting up the winnower. We're going slow, but that was part of the plan from the beginning -- the main thing at this point is to get it right and work the kinks out before we start to ramp things up.

Next up is receiving our logo from the illustrator we're working with (the drafts look great) and starting work on our packaging. One step at a time...

Wishing all of you a happy and prosperous 2014,

David and Leslie

We got more feedback this week on a few of our bars that we sent out to some of our friends in the chocolate world.  It’s interesting how different the feedback on the flavors themselves can be. At the same time it reassuring (and educational) how consistent the feedback on physical attributes and deficiencies can be. Flavor feedback seems to have a strong emotional and personal preference component – some people absolutely love one bar and suggest that we make it our signature bar while others comment “definitely don’t like this one”.  Feedback on mouth feel, grittiness, temper – those seem to be more consistent and objective (and also where we have the most immediate opportunity to improve). One thing we’ve learned is that (for me) it’s a lot harder to get a good temper on our chocolate when I table it than when we use our ChocoVision machine. I tend to get a weaker snap, a coarser texture, and more bubbles when I hand temper. For very small batches (down to even 100 grams) for internal evaluation it’s hard to beat tabling, but for anything that will be sent out to others we’ll default to the machine for the time being.

 

Things at the shop are progressing nicely. The AWOL legs for the sink were delivered earlier this week, and the sink and grease trap went in today (although I had to have them re-do the grease trap installation – one of those “not sure what this part’s for, so let’s just leave it out” moments that inevitably turns out to be a bad call – not sure if they succeeded in the re-do or not yet). The water heater got installed today, and the oven is on order (Moffat Turbofan E32D5) – as previously mentioned, it’s got a 3 week lead time, so we won’t be roasting any beans for a while yet. Aside from some minor electrical still to be done, that will pretty much do it for the contractor for a while. Next up for us is giving the hanging lights the roll-up doors a thorough cleaning, and then setting up our tables and shelves and the like so we can actually start making test batches of chocolate and working the details of our process flow out.

 

By the way, if anyone is interested in helping to formally evaluate our chocolate, please let us know – we’d be happy to send bars your way if you’d be willing to send your thoughts our way afterwards. We’re looking for brutal honesty and constructive criticism, and we have pretty thick skin (most of the time) – so don’t be shy…

 

Our Best,

David and Leslie

I would like to try your bars and would give you feed back and would also share with my friend Brady

This is my email if you would like to know the address of where to send your test bars

ahenson222@gmail.com

Hi Adrienne -- I just sent you a message at your e-mail address...thanks!

It seems like no matter how much time you plan for some things they end up taking even longer – happily we have some flexibility on our timeline.  We finally got (some) word back on our trademark application. It was approved with the exception of the word “artisan” because one of the major industrial chocolate companies uses it in the description of one of their lines of chocolate. What? “Artisan”?  Now the they have 30 days to ‘publish’ their findings and then there is a 30 day comment period. Net: 60 days until we can order our molds and packaging.

 

We’re working on setting up our new winnower – the first piece of equipment to go into the new shop (pretty exciting for us in and of itself after all this time). Once we get it up and running we’ll post some pictures and video. It’s a custom made glass “Y”-tube design that we’ve been using for about a month now and are very happy with.  We’re working with Clay to make the design and parts available to the DIYers who are interested after we post the videos.

 

We’re going to set up tables then move our chocolate making equipment in over the next couple of weeks. The oven was delayed by the snow out east, but it should be in next week of the week after. If all goes to plan we should be able to start making our first test batches sometime in March. We’d love to be able to schedule our health department inspections for some time in April.

 

That’s about it for these kids for this week – hope to have more progress to report next week…

 

Our Best,

David and Leslie

Hi David,

I'd love to see your winnower. Can you post some photos?

Thanks,
Ben

Ben -

It's a custom bit of glass work. I am working with David to find ways to get the part made for people as a standalone piece they can order (and do the rest of the work DIY) or as a part of a more complete DIY kit for those who don't want to do all the work.

There is some additional work that needs to be done before we release it here on TheChocolateLife in the DIY section, which we plan to do. We'll get this up when it's ready, but not before.

:: Clay

Hi Clay,

I'm just interested in seeing how it works. If it's working, it's ready enough for me. :)

Ben

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