Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

Downtown Asheville, North Carolina: dark, low slung brick buildings stretch out along the city’s South Slope area. Not a strip mall in sight, this is a Southern downtown that has managed to grow commerce with few visible side effects of commercialism. An occasional façade appears frozen in time with faded letters and shuttered windows. Dotted between these buildings are a variety of vibrant shops, eateries, and brew pubs. This is a downtown that is not manicured to unpleasant perfection. You will not find contrived landscapes and color-coordinated store fronts here; what you will find is a perfectly real community of merchants and neighbors who offer locally made wares produced from locally sourced ingredients.

As you turn the corner onto Buxton Avenue, a long expanse of blank brick wall transforms into an artist’s canvas covered with realistic oversized water droplets. Opposite of this mural, a row of windows faces the street. Standing guard in a line along one of those window sills sits a friendly army of cartoonish dancing bobble head figurines beckoning you to come closer. As you approach the building just beyond the bobbing window sentries, you hit a wall. Not one of the brick walls that line Buxton Avenue, but a sensory wall. The arresting, unmistakable aroma of chocolate suddenly floods the air and stops you in your tracks.

“The arresting, unmistakable aroma of chocolate suddenly floods the air and stops you in your tracks.”

You have arrived. Among more somber brick edifices is nestled one storefront trimmed in the cheerful color of a robin’s egg. As you draw nearer to this place, the cloud of cocoa perfume grows thicker. Hand-painted lettering unfolds across the vivid blue surface in scrolling curlicues: the letters read “French Broad Chocolates.”

Welcome to Chocolate Nirvana: French Broad Chocolates

By this point, there is an overwhelming need to locate the source of the sweet fragrance wafting from the building. As your nose draws you through the door, your eyes land on a shiny glass case filled with chocolate domes in assorted colors and sizes. The fun, modern design of the interior hints at what lies behind an interior glass door dotted with red and pink heart-shaped stickers. You are greeted by extraordinarily friendly and knowledgeable staff who offer truffle samples and can answer just about every question you ever had about chocolate.

Welcome to Chocolate Nirvana. You have just landed in the French Broad Chocolate Factory presently located at 21 Buxton Avenue, and you are happy.

Named after the French Broad River that flows through Asheville, French Broad Chocolates presently consists of the Buxton Avenue factory and a larger retail and cafe space known as French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The lounge is located at 10 South Pack Square, a crosstown drive from the factory. The factory location offers regular tours and features a small retail area, while the lounge consists of a beautiful café and larger retail space offering merchandise, local pottery, and a chocolate bar library.

Meet Dan and Jael Rattigan

The long and winding story of French Broad Chocolates begins with a chance meeting of two people at a wedding who fall in love and travel to the Caribbean in a vegetable-oil powered school bus to revive an abandoned cacao farm.

Dan and Jael Rattigan are the two people at the center of this improbable love story. They believe “our story has shaped our values and ambitions, and we’re adamant about fostering positivity in our business, our community and our industry, all in the name of love and chocolate.”

The couple met in 2003 and after visiting Costa Rica, they decided to leave graduate school behind and pursue their passion. This pursuit led them to relocate to Puerto Viejo de Limon in Costa Rica and to purchase an abandoned cacao farm.

In 2004, the Rattigans opened a café in Puerto Viejo de Limon named Bread & Chocolate. It was soon thereafter that the couple’s first child was born – along with their passion for chocolate. This passion would lead the young family back to the United States propelled by their mission to build a community centered around sustainably produced bean-to-bar chocolate.

Asheville, North Carolina proved to be the perfect environment to build this community and pursue their mission. The Rattigans’ second son was born after relocating, and the business that would eventually become French Broad Chocolates began in their Asheville home kitchen.

Selling their handmade confections at local markets and online, the couple soon learned there was a burgeoning market for their product. In 2008, the home kitchen was relieved of duty and The French Broad Chocolate Lounge opened for business. A roaring success, the luxurious spot became famous for its capacity crowds and lines that wrapped around the building. In 2009, the lounge expanded to its current location in the heart of downtown Asheville.

The Rattigans bean-to-bar dream was fully realized in 2012 with the opening of French Broad Chocolate Factory on Buxton Avenue in Asheville. Using select ingredients from trusted farmers, the factory is committed to producing the highest quality chocolate and serving the community every step of the way. In the face of ever growing demand, the company plans to relocate its factory to a larger space soon.

For the Love of Chocolate

It appears the desire for chocolate is eternal. Since before the days of the Aztecs, cacao has been treasured for its flavor and medicinal uses. At the end of the day, there are few foods which evoke a stronger emotional response than chocolate. It is the food of decadence and love. It is warm and comforting. Science proves that the compounds found in cacao are extraordinarily beneficial to our health, both physical and mental. The ancient, emotionally-charged aura surrounding this food is very present in both the chocolate and the community created by French Broad Chocolates.

 

The company’s ethos is that of a good neighbor, both locally and globally. All locations employ strict energy conservation measures. French Broad Chocolates also strives to source all ingredients as locally as possible including producers like Old Sandy Mush, a purveyor of strawberries and Annie Louise’s Market Stand for fall pumpkins. When this is not possible, they source ingredients from farmers and producers who share their same commitment to the environment and community.

Although community minded and focused on local sourcing, French Broad Chocolates is poised to become a nationally recognized brand. Their chocolate has received accolades from International Chocolate Awards and Garden & Gun Magazine, among others. Asheville is known for its mountain beauty, thriving food scene and breweries. In the not too distant future, it may become equally as well known for a company that began in a young couple’s family kitchen and grew into one of the country’s most outstanding bean-to-bar chocolate producers.

 

You can visit French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Boutique at 10 S. Pack Square, Asheville, North Carolina (Phone: 828-252-4181), as well as its factory presently located at 21 Buxton Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina. Tours of the factory are available as follows: Tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays on the hour and half hour between 2pm and 5pm (2pm, 2:30pm, 3pm, etc.). This tour is a 10 minute walk through the factory and is free of charge. There are also more extensive guided tours available on Saturdays at a cost of $10.

by Christy Graham, Managing Editor