Last month, our longtime barista and former chocolate maker, Brandon, spent five weeks in Tokyo as part of our exchange program with Dandelion Chocolate Japan. Brandon, of course, also happens to be a talented photographer. Here’s a peek into his time there.
We launched our first ever Holiday Pop Up on Santana Row nearly a month ago, and it’s been a whirlwind of adventure filled with new friends, chocolate samples, health permits, melanger demos, breaking (and fixing) things, testing our logistics capacity, and more. In fact, we didn’t even figure out how to turn on the heat in this building until last week, but what’s life but an adventure, right?
Way back when, Todd and Elaine lived in Santana Row above Pizza Antica from 2005 to 2012. For them, it was in that apartment that the very beginning of a rich journey into chocolate would blossom. What started as a hobby, making test batches in their kitchen, quickly grew into the Dandelion Chocolate we know today. There is a lot of nostalgia for us on this block. We even have the same cacao tree (that’s trying against all odds to stay standing up) at our Valencia Street cafe that once called Pizza Antica home.
And so, when Santana Row management contacted Todd about doing a pop-up for the holidays, it was hard to refuse an opportunity to come home again, in some sense. The available space is a whopping 3,000 some square feet, almost the size of our Valencia St. factory and cafe. In other words…way too big for little ol’ us to make use of without starting an entirely new factory. So, we made a cozy corner out of that space for a hot chocolate stand.
Through the hard work of Dandelion team members, we were able to literally pop up in what seemed like overnight. A huge shout-out to Maverick, Snooky and Vic, Dandelion’s in-house handy folk, who designed and constructed a mobile cart to house our espresso machine, sink, fridge and cash register. Our design team created a beautiful retail space to fill with holiday gifts and our tasty chocolate bars. We welcomed a whole new team of seven baristas to help us tell our story in San Jose and share our chocolate with the community here. The cafe is intimate, to say the least. But we have plenty of outdoor seating for people to hide from the rain and enjoy a frothy, chocolatey drink.
Plus, we’re having fun with our new neighbors and the locals in the area. It is a real treat to be able to get out and explore a familiar yet new area at the same time. We’ll be open until December 24th, so if you’re in the area please stop by and say hello!
The Ferry Building is a lot of things: an iconic bayside tower, a commuter terminal, the beating center of local commerce in San Francisco, and it’s our home. We love the Ferry Building, and we’ve been happy to be a part of the community there for about two years.
In February we upgraded from our small kiosk near the entrance to a full-fledged café, which we lovingly call our Hot Chocolate Stand, and moved around the corner. You’ll find the same retail offerings on our shelves in addition to our full beverage menu from our Valencia Street Cafe, and of course, our own Lisa Vega’s pastries. Last week we moved up our opening hours to 7am on Monday through Friday to provide Mochas (or just a cup of Four Barrel Coffee) to the commuters and downtown offices around us!
Our new spot is a tad less obvious than our old kiosk. We’re located outside of the actual building in the North Arcade alongside Marla Bakery, Fort Point Brewery, Blue Bottle Coffee and Sow Juice.
We’re here every day, anytime you need some hot chocolate to go with the kale and persimmons you just got at the CUESA Farmer’s Market on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Occasionally, we have special events too! This week, as part of the Third Thursday “Night Cafe” put on by the Ferry Building, we will be pairing our chocolate with beers from Fort Point Brewery and making chocolate with a metate, the way the Maya have done it for centuries!
Next time you’re down at the Ferry Building, come by and let us make you a hot chocolate or a coffee. On a nice day, you can walk a little ways to sit down and watch the sea lions. Most of the time they’re just sleeping, but with a hot chocolate in hand anything can be interesting. Right?
When we first moved into our Valencia St factory, it felt so roomy. It was a major upgrade from working in our friend’s garage. I can still remember when almost all of our chocolate-making equipment could fit on one folding table.
But we’ve been growing fast, and if you’ve stopped by the factory recently, you’ve probably seen that we are completely maxed out on space. We’ve squeezed every inch to make room for more production than ever, but also twice-weekly classes, daily tours, and special events. We’ve been humbled to watch as our demand has grown and we’ve had to put over 300 stores on our ever-growing waitlist. We would love to make more chocolate and have ideas for how to make it taste even better, but it’s become increasingly clear that that we need more space.
While we hope to never close our Valencia Street Factory, we’ve been on the hunt for a larger, second production facility. And now we have some exciting news to share: we’ve found a new spot to expand into! Our new space is located at 16th and Alabama, the former home of the Howard Quinn printing company.
It was very important to us that not only did we stay in San Francisco as we grew, but also the Mission. So we were thrilled when the awesome team at CBRE (many thanks to Matt Kroger, Gary Arabian, and Mike Iino) found us this amazing opportunity just a few blocks away. It’s brick, it’s beautiful, we couldn’t be more thrilled, and it’ll last us years and years. However, it may also take a few years to fully build out and most likely, it will take even longer than anticipated. Our hope is that we can make room for more production and chocolate education and become a bigger part of the San Francisco chocolate story.
We opened the factory and retail part of our Valencia St location for the first time today! While we had few hiccups, overall, things when great. Everyone we met was wonderful and we had a great time talking to people about chocolate and showing them our space.
Special thanks to Brian for manning the front of the house and taking great care of everyone!
It took a little longer than we’d original planned… ok, a lot longer, but we’ve finally moved in to our permanent home at 740 Valencia St! After doing a bunch of planning, we started packing and moving things on Thursday of last week. We took a bunch of the our semi-portable equipment (melangers, temperers) in the first load:
All loaded up
After that, we packed up a bunch of boxes with all of the stuff we needed and loaded them into the truck:
Caitlin wrangling the pallet jack. Where were they in college?
Tyler and Joey unloading
Me about to drive the truck back to Dogpatch after dropping off a load at Valencia
The real challenge was moving our 2000lb wrapping machine from 1955 as it doesn’t really fit out of the door at the Dogpatch and we weren’t sure if it’d fit past our counters at Valencia. Fortunately, we had amazing help from Snooky and his team (Vic, Mark, and Sean). Snooky and Vic managed to wrangle the machine into the Dogpatch so they were the perfect set of people to help us get it to Valencia:
Snooky, grinning and planning his attack
Just squeaking out the door
We certainly weren’t gonna lift it by hand…
But that didn’t stop us from pretending we were :)
We had about a 1/4 inch to spare on each side!
Wrapping machine in its new home
After moving everything over, we still needed clean things up at the Dogpatch space and set everything up at Valencia.
Todd and Maya setting up tables
Tyler, Chiann, and Maya on the roof ladder
Tod and Lisa did an amazing job giving the Dogpatch space a much needed scrub down and Erica and Lisa (what a champ!) were hugely helpful in getting things set up at Valencia over the weekend. By Sunday, our new space was ready:
(Photo credit: Molly DeCoudreaux)
It’s hard to imagine the move having gone any smoother than it did; thank you so much to everyone who made it happen!
It’s been busy around here at the chocolate factory! We’ve been a bit behind on posting updates to the blog, so here’s a quick catch up on everything that’s happened in the last few weeks.
First, we got a giant order for a conference. This is what 2,000 bars of chocolate (and a tiny box of extras) looks like stacked next to Cynthia.
It took us about 2 years of experimenting to make our first 10,000 bars, so it was a pretty big accomplishment for us to make 2,000 bars in about 10 days of long nights and weekends. This also forced us to streamline our process and now we are solidly making 1,000 bars a week. Even at this rate, though, we are still behind on our backlog but have some more ideas on how to scale up.
Next, we have two new machines in our chocolate-making line-up. First, a much larger Selmi tempering machine:
Unfortunately, because our chocolate has no added cocoa butter or emulsifiers, the machine does not work well with our chocolate and continually seizes up. Right now we are using it as a chocolate melter, but we’ve ordered an oversized motor which should be here in a few weeks. We’re hoping this will fix our tempering woes — right now this is the longest and hardest part of our process and we are looking forward to fixing it.
We also got a wrapping machine. I won’t say much here as this deserves a blog post (or series of blog posts) of it’s own. We had a lot of drama since it would not fit through our door. Here’s a photo of it all wrapped up while we figured out how to get it into the space:
Also, our container of beans from Madagascar arrived. These were the beans from Bertil’s farm that Cam and Alice visited last fall. The full container was 198 bags — half of which we shared with our friends Charley and Nicole. Most of the beans are in cold storage, but we have a small bean mountain in our space as we work through our bags:
And finally, our space on Valencia is starting to look more like a chocolate factory:
PS — you can find some new locations on our locations page: http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/locations/
I’m taking a trip to Boston this weekend and so is our chocolate. We met one of our retailers, Formaggio Kitchen, at the Good Food Awards in January. They won for their in-house charcuterie and had a chance to taste our chocolate while visiting SF. Awesomely, they were one of the first shops to bring our chocolate to the east coast, introducing it to a whole new set of customers. They snapped this photo at one of their first tasting sessions, saying that our bars are a perfect after-dinner treat.
While I’m visiting this weekend, I’ll host a tasting on Saturday from 11 AM – 2 PM at their shop in Cambridge. If you live nearby, come visit! I’ll have our three bars to taste and I’ll be ready to answer any questions about making chocolate from the bean. Hope to see you there!
If you’d like to learn more about chocolate making, take a look at Chocolate 101 in our online store.
Don’t forget, we’ll be teaching Chocolate 101 next Wednesday night in our space. There are 15 spots and we’d love to see you there. Tickets are available in our store.
The next time you’re walking down Valencia Street craving our chocolate and eagerly awaiting our factory, you can make a stop at Four Barrel. As of last week, all of their chocolate drinks are made with our Madagascar.
We stopped by the cafe late last month to make a few test drinks. Our tasting wasn’t nearly as intense as the last time we made hot chocolate, but we did taste drinks made with our Colombia, Costa Rica, and Madagascar. Initially, we thought the Colombia would be best as a simple, sweet drinking chocolate, but the fruitiness of our Madagascar tasted incredible with Four Barrel’s coffee. The complexity of the chocolate played really well with the rich milk and espresso.
Our working with Four Barrel is an awesome partnership. We admired their space long before we met Jeremy and the rest of the crew. We’d be lucky to have a place as welcoming and good looking. And as two roasters on the same street, there’s a pretty unique opportunity for collaboration. When we open on Valencia, we’ll serve their coffee along with all of our hot chocolates.
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.