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...


David and Leslie

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Replies to This Discussion

$300+ for a service call since the problem wasn't with the oven, but with the wiring the contractor did -- both in installing the pigtail and in the box. Ugh. The good news is that the oven is up and running, no damage (aside to the wallet) done. Just another speed bump along the way...

Can't wait to clean it out, do the burn-in, and start wringing it out with some test batches. Up next: renting a truck, moving in some more tables from storage, and building our bean-cleaning table. 

Still struggling with the texture of our chocolate. It's better since we started using the micrometer to make sure the max particle size is sub-25 microns, but still "powdery" (not actually gritty, but definitely not smooth like it should be). Seeking the wisdom of the crowd and those who have gone before. We're doing our conching/refining in a Santha 11, if that helps. We're running some tests on (improvised) conching after refining, improving out tempering, adding cocoa butter (some of our chocolate is a lot more viscous than others). Any thoughts for which rocks to turn over first??



David -

You should probably promote this last question to a separate question in the main discussion forum. More people will see it there, and it's a question that several other people I know would like answered.

Will do -- thanks, Clay.

We set up a couple more tables this week that next week will be home to our melangeur, temperer and granite slab (for tabling). We put the finishing touches on our winnower, did a burn-in on the oven, ordered a poly-top table that we're going to modify for bean cleaning. Tomorrow we'll be in the shop doing some general cleaning in preparation for our inaugural run. It's really amazing to see it all coming together -- we're getting very close to the point where we can fire everything up and make our first batch of test chocolate in our new little shop -- perhaps within the next two weeks.

Next up is building the bean cleaning table, the cooling table (after roasting), and the cooling tunnel. For the cooling tunnel, think "keezer" -- we're going to go with the chest freezer design where you put a shim between the chest and the lid -- we'll have a manually fed "conveyor" (a Metro shelf) that goes from one end to the other, fans inside to circulate the air, and a temperature controller to maintain 55F. I really enjoy making things like this -- just wish I had (a LOT) more time to do it. The controller will arrive Monday or Tuesday, and we plan on ordering the freezer itself tomorrow. We'll share photos and let you know how it works as soon as we have it put together.

Can't wait!!!

David and Leslie

Hi David and Leslie,

I have really enjoyed your posts.  It has been very enlightening for me as I begin my chocolate journey (not b2b for me).  I would be interested in providing feedback on your chocolate.  Please email me at if you would like my address. 

Wishing you the best:)

Jennifer Smith

Hi Jennifer,

I sent you an e-mail -- looking forward to sending you bars!



We went down to city hall Thursday and Friday of last week to get the ball rolling on our permits. First up was the occupancy permit application (not to be confused with the permit itself), followed by the business licence application. Before we can get the actual occupancy permit we have to pass our fire inspection, get our depth of health permit from the state of CA, and pass our building inspection. We went through the fire inspection checklist today and ordered our 2A10BC fire extinguisher. It looks like everything else is in order. We should have enough done and in place the call to request our fire and the dept of health inspections a week from Monday. We can't schedule the final building inspection until after we pass both of those and have the certificates in hand. Our goal is to have everything behind us by the 1st of June. THAT will be cause for serious celebration when it finally happens.

We also received version 2 of our glass winnower tube this week and set it up over the weekend. Here's a link to a short video of it. This one is 6" shorter than version 1, has a 'ski jump' where the feed tube meets the separation tube to improve dispersal and separation (which it does!), has a glass funnel to replace the soda bottle we used to use (it doesn't entirely...), and it has a 45-degree bend at the exit end to kick the nibs forward into the bucket (that works, too!).

What we've learned so far with this version is that our soda bottle funnel was actually part of the reason why version 1 worked -- in addition to serving as a funnel, it also served to restrict the airflow down the feed tube. This matters because more flow in the feed tube means less flow UP the separation tube below the junction. When we tried to run without the restriction (version 2) we had too much husk dropping into the nib bucket. The glass tube made it really easy to see what was going on, so we dropped  the top of a soda bottle into the bottom of the glass funnel and voila! In version 3 we'll design it with a smaller feed tube diameter to accomplish this restriction. Another thing we've observed is that our ski-jump is a little more extreme than it needs to be -- the husks and nibs collect behind it sometimes (although they always self clear after a bit). In the next version we'd want to back off on the height of the jump a bit.

We're going to send version 1 back to the glass maker to see if these two changes will help it work with the shorter separation tube (we had to add a PVC extension onto the separation tube of version 1 to get clean separation). If that's not enough we'll work on introducing more turbulence into the flow using inserts of some type -- we've been talking with Clay about different designs and low cost ways to test them (3D printing in particular).

Credit for the y-tube design goes to others -- it's similar to a design the Ben Rasmussen on this forum has used in the past, and is a variation on the theme of some of the other counterflow designs out there -- the only real difference here is that ours is made out of glass so you can see what's going on when you're troubleshooting and making adjustments (and it's just fun to watch!). 

Sometime in the next week or two we should get as close to an answer as you ever really get on our trademarks. As soon as we get the word (assuming it's not negative) we'll turn Micelli loose on our molds and will get the ball rolling on our packaging.

Seeing glimmers of light at the end of that long, hazy tunnel(!),

David and Leslie


Thanks for this and all the comments are great.

We will be going through a similar process. Perhaps I will document our journey in the same way and share. If nothing else it would be a good blog for the site until we get rolling.

Jonathan -

By all means, please start your own thread share and share your own journey. We'd all like to learn from your experiences and we may be able to help!

:: Clay

If anyone ever suggests that you start a chocolate business…run!

Just kidding of course (but there are days…).   ; )

We’ve made some more good progress on a number of fronts in the last couple of weeks. We filed our PFR with the Department of Health (there’s goes another cool almost $500) -- that has to be done before we can schedule our inspection, got our fire extinguisher (and properly mounted it), built a pretty basic but functional bean cooling table, installed shades in our units windows (it was too much like a fishbowl without them), started putting together our bean cleaning table, and replaced all of the wood parts of our Crankandstein with HDPE and mounted it to one of our work tables (photo below) – what an improvement over trying to secure it over a five-gallon pail. What's amazing is how much time even the seemingly  little tasks (like installing blinds) take -- you look up and two more weeks are gone.

This coming week we’re having a security system installed (yep, there’s another $500+ up front plus $50/month for monitoring) and will be getting everything in order for the fire department inspection (that inspection and the health department inspection are the two gates we have to get through before the building inspector comes for the last inspection we need to 'go-live').

On the process equipment front, now that we have a serviceable winnower (there will still be a few more improvements on the next version, but this one is really getting the job done nicely), we’re starting to work on a system for removing the germ from our sieved nibs. Our neighbor in the next bay down runs a machine shop and is going to turn our first design into a prototype for us in the next week or two. Our goal is to come up with a reasonably low cost, efficient design that will help us recover some of the finer pieces of nibs that we’re currently discarding along with the germ. Does anyone else out there have a great way for separating the germ and nibs in the final sieve?

Keeping at it,

David and Leslie


If this is something that others have already tried and/or are using, pardon me for being redundant -- I'm always happy when I find something (in my budget) that seems to work well, and wanted to share. We don't own a guillotine yet, and are looking at something around $1000-1200 delivered for a Magra (a very nice tool from all appearances and reports). Kitchen knives have not cut it (so to speak) since it's hard to hold the beans and make the cut without risking digits. I remembered an old tool I've used in the past when installing a drip irrigation system -- a plastic tubing cutter -- and thought I'd give it a try. A trip the the hardware store and $15 later, I am the proud owner of what appears to be a pretty serviceable one-bean-at-a-time solution. I cleanly cut 25 beans in just a couple of minutes -- way better than I've been able to do with a knife and cutting board. Here's a picture of the cut beans and the budget single-bean guillotine:

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