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


I can't see the image ... something like one of these or similar?

Yes -- exactly -- mine is almost identical.

Here's an interesting observation that I thought I'd share and see if anyone has seen the same and/or has any feedback. I've done a lot of work in the last couple of months on measuring and controlling my particle size. At about the same time I bought another Spectra 11 and fired it up. I noticed immediately that the new melanguer was MUCH slower in reducing the particle size (I just confirmed that the original set will take 1.5 kg down to less than 20 microns in 12 hours, while the other two sets take over 40 hours at the same approximate spring pressure). After ruling out the springs (by swapping them) I noticed that the wheels from my first Spectra 11 were radically different than those from the new one. I also have an extra set of wheels that I bought a couple of years ago as spares -- and guess what -- they're different than either of the other sets!

The original set has one wheel with two large grooves and the other three large grooves. The 'spare' set also has this arrangement. The new set has one wheel with one large groove and the other with two large grooves. At first glance the original set and the spare appear the same, but on closer inspection there is an important difference. The original set has many tiny grooves cut in the granite between the large grooves giving the wheels very small ridges across its full width. Neither the spares nor the set I just got with the new melangeur have these smaller grooves - they are flat and smooth between the larger grooves.

It makes sense -- ridges = higher pressure, shear, etc. Now I want to either get another set of wheels with the smaller grooves (why did Santha change them???) or have the wheels I have cut -- know any good stone cutters?

Has anyone else dealt with this?


I’ve been reading “Chocolate Production and Use” by L. Russell Cook this week  (third edition) – a book I’m that I’m grateful to have in my chocolate library now, but one I wish I had known about many years sooner. I believe it’s out of print now, but you can find used copies on Amazon. It isn’t cheap at a bit over $100, but it is probably the best $100 I’ve spent since I started making chocolate. The sections on Chocolate Manufacture and Chocolate Manufacturing Controls alone were worth the purchase price in my case.  I’ve already put together a list of changes that I’m going to make and/or experiments I’m going to run for my own process.

Aside from that, we’ve been busy this week getting the shop cleaned up and ready for our inspections. We also built some prototype constant temperature boxes that we’re going to use for pre-heating all of our molds to 80F before use, another for holding tempered chocolate at 89-90F, and things of that sort. The same controller works great on our chest freezer that is in the process of being converted into a cooling tunnel, and we’ll be adding a couple of more for bean storage and final product storage.

We also received our first 1.5L Premier Wonder earlier this week – the first batch has already been in for 24 hours. So far, so good – we really like what we’re seeing.  We put in a small 800g batch, and within 12 hours it was down to about 20 microns. It runs quite smoothly, is quieter than our Spectra 11, and seems to run a little bit cooler. Based on what I see so far, I could easily run considerably larger batches – I’ll probably go up to 1.5 kg as my next stop, then see how much higher it can comfortably go. The day after I bought this one on Amazon, I got an e-mail from Chocolate Alchemy saying that they are now offering the Premier Wonder – and at a slightly lower price. As long as this one keeps going the way it seems to be so far, we’ll  be buying a few more to expedite test batches to profile new beans.

We made our third batch with some beans that we bought from Pantek – Brazil Trinitario beans. Our first batch was pretty good – REALLY bright and fruity  -- lots of grape/red wine notes. We built two more batches each going a little darker on the roast, and each got even better than the first. Really happy with these beans and will be placing an order as soon as we get our permits in place. We’re also just starting to work with a couple of different beans from Nicaragua, but it’s too early to say one way or the other how those are going to be – the first one looks encouraging after the second batch, but we’re not quite there yet. The second one looks questionable before we even start – lots of purple beans in our cut test. We’re going to roast it up anyway and see what we get, mainly for our own education. We’ll let you know in the next couple of weeks what we learn.

All the best,
David and Leslie

Health department inspection next Wednesday, fire inspection on Thursday...fingers crossed...

Today was a big milestone day for us -- we passed our health department inspection! Tomorrow is our fire inspection, and provided that we pass that one, we can request the building inspection. Very excited to have moved one step closer to opening our doors...!

Great news David. When you say "opening your doors", does that mean start retailing to the public or does that mean start producing chocolate which you can sell to the public?

"Opening our doors" for us is going to mean being fully permitted to sell. Our plan is targeted and limited wholesale in the beginning,  with internet sales sometime thereafter. We're going to keep the growth slow and manageable, and focus intensely on making great chocolate and on the customer experience. If we do those two things right the volume should gradually build, along with our ability to support it. 

Passed the fire inspection, and scheduled the building inspection...hoping to be officially in the chocolate business next week!

Next week?! How exciting!

Will you be receptive to taking mail orders as well?

Congratulations and best wishes to both of you!

Thank you for the well wishes...just one more inspection (and hopefully not too many corrective actions) to go. We're getting close to the end of the beginning...

LOL - we will take orders via carrier pigeon if needed!

Yes, we'll happily take mail orders...!

: )

All Our Best,

David and Leslie


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