Ken from Media59.com posted a quick video of Cam explaining Cacao at the SF Chocolate salon. Take a look:
The construction has been moving along steadily. For the last few weeks the focus has been on getting the plumbing and electrical under-floor work done. It’s the kind of thing that has to be done right, because once we pour the slab, it’s literally set in stone. We’ve passed our initial plumbing and electrical inspections, so the goal is to have a floor after the long weekend (so it has more time to set).
While the electrical and plumbing were getting installed, it was a big mess as lots of dirt had to be moved around:
The grease traps and rough-ins went in:
Lots of conduit for all of our machines and the cafe:
Once the inspections were done, the holes were filled back in, leaving a nice level ground:
And finally, we are starting to take a look at the roof and install the HVAC and vents!
We got a bit of great news — we finally have our building permit! It’s been a long, hard road getting permits from the city, so we were thrilled when we got the okay to pick it up. This was the last step before we could start building the interior of our space.
George, our construction project manager, and I headed down to the building department to grab it in person. Of course, when we got there, it was missing a stamp and had been taken back into the system. We spent a good chunk of time scurrying between floors searching for the lost signatures. Finally they decided we were all good and let us stamp the plans! (That’s George above stamping each page).
As we’ve been waiting for this to happen, the construction crew was all ready to go, measuring and planning all of the plumbing:
And no groundbreaking would be complete without a photo of me holding a shovel looking like I just dug up a giant pile of rocks!
One of the most common questions we get at farmer’s markets is “When will the space be ready??” We had originally thought our Valencia Street factory and cafe would be open over a year ago, but the city had other plans. In fact, the lease had been signed in October 2010 and the architectural plans done around the same time, but there were a series of permits we needed before we could begin any work.
Ron, our landlord, originally had an auto repair garage in the space and had to go through the process of converting the building. There are a couple steps in this process: 1) Change of Use permit, 2) Landlord’s work, 3) Our building permit, and 4) Our construction. The first step in this process took over 18 months — basically the Change of Use permit had to wend its way through the city’s process. Then Ron had to add the storefront, put up walls, sprinklers, pipes, and finish the shell of our space. Ron is now done with all of his work and permits. Cam and I stopped by to drop off the signed forms which means we are now at “delivery” and the space is finally ours!
We still have a long road ahead though; our building permit is still waiting on two departments: PUC and health. Once we get those approvals, we can actually start building the interior and hopefully get open in a few months. Thanks everyone for being patient on this journey with us!
As many of you know, we had a bit of a rough December. First we moved (yay!) but then our tempering machine broke, Alice’s apartment caught on fire, and Cam had to leave for a family medical emergency. All of this of course happened during the holiday chocolate rush, leaving us with many late nights at the chocolate factory. I’m happy to report that Alice found a new place to live, Cam’s family is all ok, and our temperer is fixed — so we are back to making chocolate!
Since everyone’s been asking about the problems with the machine, here’s the quick synopsis:
The fat in chocolate, cocoa butter, is polymorphic — meaning that it can set in a few different forms based on the way the crystals in the chocolate are arranged. Only one of those forms is the one we want because the chocolate will have a nice shine, snap when broken, and won’t turn whitish and gritty while on the shelf. Tempering is the process of heating, cooling, and agitating the chocolate in a very specific way to get this proper crystal structure. You can do this with a marble slab and thermometer, but luckily we have a machine that greatly speeds up the process:
Before the move, we had noticed a slight noise coming from the temperer while the pump motor was on, but it didn’t seem to affect our ability to get good bars. After the move, the motor noise was so loud you could hear the temperer down the hall, and sadly, the temperer would often seize up and we’d wait a few hours to get the chocolate melted and flowing again before starting over. This meant that we might be able to temper a few bars at at time, but then inevitably the machine would seize and then we would try again a few hours later.
We called the US distributor, Tomric, and Sean was incredibly responsive and sent us a new motor within a few days. We promptly took apart the machine and went to install the new motor. Unfortunately, we discovered that the replacement motor was for three phase power whereas our machine is configured for single phase. We called again and found out that the correct motor needed to be shipped from Italy.
Amazingly, a few days later, a new motor and gearbox arrived at our door, straight from Italy:
I can’t express how happy we were to see this new motor. I was ready with a new blog post; I had already thought up a good title (“Hallelujah! Christmas came early”). Again, we took apart the machine, put in the motor, and this time we were able to wire it up:
And… the noise was fixed, it tempered better, but sadly — it was not enough: the machine still seized up and left us without chocolate. At this point, we decided we needed to fulfill our orders, with machine or not. We spent the next few weeks working super early mornings, crazy late nights, and a few all-nighters to eek out just enough to fulfill what we could. Cam got so good at predicting when the machine would seize that we nicknamed him the “temperer whisperer.”
Post-holidays, we took a step back and tried to debug the machine. Given what we knew about the motors, it felt like the machine was fine but there must be something wrong with our power. We called our favorite electrician, Arnold, who brought along his brilliant son, Anthony, to look at our machine. After a few hours of measuring voltages component-by-component, they confirmed our suspicion.
The issue was that the machine has an operating range of 220-240v and our outlet was only supplying 204v. Worse, under load, the volts dropped down to around 200v. As our chocolate has no emulsifiers and is thicker than most, we needed the full power, closer to 240v, which is what we had at our previous location. So the machine was getting a full 40v less than ideal. We thought that maybe it was a faulty wire, but it turns out our space itself had bad power. Luckily Arnold installed a small step-up transformer and now we are back in business! Many thanks to everyone, especially our wholesale customers, for their patience and support.
We’ve all just returned from a much needed post-holiday-rush break and are happy to be back in the factory. Looks like while we were away, one of our bars made it all the way to Antarctica! Here’s a photo Kristy Leissle (the doc of choc) sent us on our her recent trip down south. I love the penguins in the background!
We’ve moved! While we wait for our Valencia street space to go through more permitting and construction, we’ve found a new home in Dogpatch. After working out of a tiny garage and a shared commercial kitchen, we feel pretty spoiled now with so much more space and a beautiful view of the bay. It’s nice to be in SF finally.
Many thanks to Stephanie for the great photo.
I guess good news comes in pairs — we just found out that we picked up a few awards at last weekend’s Fall Chocolate Salon. We won gold medals for best organic / fair-trade chocolate and the new product awards, as well as silvers for best overall dark chocolate and dark chocolate bars. You can see the full list of winners here.
This salon is a smaller version of the giant Chocolate Salon that happens every year in the spring. It’s a bit more intimate and it was great place for us to catch up with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while and meet some new ones. Here’s a shot of Alice and me with our friend Zeina, a few hours before Alice hopped on a plane to Madagascar.
Special thanks to Corinne for the photos — Corinne has embarked un a multi-year bet to eat a different chocolate everyday. She is currently up to 1,800 chocolates eaten so far. You can check out her blog here: www.chocolatebanquet.com.
We’re thrilled to hear that we were chosen as a finalist for the 2012 Good Food Awards. Nine bean-to-bar companies were chosen out of countless submissions and we are happy to be considered in such good company. Here’s the full list of chocolate finalists:
- Amano Artisan Chocolate, Guayas Utah
- Bittersweet, Rich Milk California
- Dandelion Chocolate, 70% Costa Rica California
- Escazu Artisan Chocolate, 60% Goat’s Milk & 65% Costa Rica North Carolina
- Fresco Chocolate, 214 Madagascar 74% & 217 Chuao 70% Washington
- Lillie Belle Farms, Perfect Illusion 65 Oregon
- Patric Chocolate, LLC, PBJ OMG & Signature 70% Blend Missouri
- Rogue Chocolatier, Inc., Hispaniola & Sambirano Massachusetts
- Theo Chocolate, Theo and Jane Goodall 70% Dark Chocolate Washington
In other news, Cam and Alice are deep in the jungles of Madagascar visiting Bertil at the cacao farm. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of internet out there, but I did manage to get a quick update from Cam that he made it there in one piece. Updates to follow.
Ron, our landlord, has finally gotten the necessary approvals to complete his construction and move ahead with the build-out for our space. That means it’s time for us to start getting our plans in order and submit for building permits. Since it’s been a year since we designed the space — and we’ve learned a lot since then — we are now going through the plans outlet by outlet, duct by duct, in one final pass. It’s a lot of work, 62 pages in all, but we’re excited for this next step!