Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chuck Siegel: Coast to Coast Chocolatier

Ten days ago, Charles Chocolates owner Chuck Siegel and a staff candy maker named Carlos set off from San Francisco for New York in a refrigerated van full of chocolate. At least, it would become refrigerated once a specialty part arrived from Germany. When the FedEx truck didn't arrive at the new Charles Chocolates shop in Emeryville at 8am as promised, Chuck tracked the delivery guy down at the Pixar headquarters and--as if composing a bonus scene for the Ratatouille DVD--he and Carlos repaired the refrigeration system in the animation studio's parking lot.

Temperature dropping, Chuck and Carlos, the Charles Chocolatiers, took to the open road. On the horizon was the New York Fancy Food Show. Based on the restaurant reporting on the new Charles Chocolates blog, I think the guys could have used a copy of Jane and Michael Stern's Road Food, but they safely transported and generously distributed their confections across a dozen states. Along the way, they unloaded some gatorfoam (intended for their trade show booth) that was weighing them down and jerryrigged an adapter to power the van's air-conditioner while the motor was off. In Michigan, they bunked with Chuck's parents and set up a chocolate demo at Zingerman's, the Midwest's (if not the nation's) most intellectual food store. The next day, Carlos flew home to Florida for a couple of days (he was so passionate about working for Charles Chocolates that he relocated to the Bay Area before he'd even been offered the job), and Chuck took the interstate to the East Coast.

When he made it to New York, Chuck Siegel called and asked if I'd like to help out at the Fancy Food Show. Of course, I said. I support his small-business principles and chocolate-making style enough to be the on-staff blogger for a day, blurring the lines between writing and marketing, between professional and personal.

"I'm not selling the stuff," I said to an editor at my current freelance job, in an attempt to convey my objectivity. "I'm just helping out a friend." But sell I did. Retailers and distributors arrived at ten this Sunday morning, and they wanted to place orders. Occasionally, I could tell them what they wanted to know (the minimum wholesale order is one case; the company does ship to Canada), and Charles Chocolates' sales manager Joyce Guan and vice president of operations Glen Ishikata fed me the rest of the answers. In a couple of instances, my own experience eating Charles Chocolates was enough to help me secure a sale. A pair of buyers asked me if the edible chocolate boxes were durable enough to be shipped long distances, and I told them that the one I took in my carry-on from San Francisco to New York to Pittsburgh arrived without so much as a ding. And when a shop owner asked me if the new tea collection might be just a bit too sophisticated for her New England customers, I recommended the signature peanut butterflies--classic, playful, and unintimidating, with a core of homemade peanut praline.

Wednesday morning, the Charles Chocolates van heads back to the West Coast. Before Chuck and his dedicated staff take off, they'll be holding a chocolate demo starting at 11am at the Union Square Whole Foods Market here in New York.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. I'd never heard of Charles Chocolates before; now I'll have to go check them out. The road trip sounds like quite an adventure!

I hope you don't mind that I've added your blog to my cooking links directory. I started out doing a little browsing this morning and ended up realizing how long it's been since I ferreted out some wonderful new links to point people to---and thus how much I was missing out on!

4:52 AM GMT-5  

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