For The Love Of Cacao

By Christine Sykes Lowe

French Broad ChocolatesDan and Jael Rattigan, owners of French Broad Chocolates in Asheville, NC are made to order entrepreneurs- from backgrounds in business management to the spark of creativity, they embody many of the essential elements that people need to succeed while launching a venture. And for the past six years, succeed they have. In addition to their thriving retail location, otherwise known as French Broad Chocolate Lounge in downtown Asheville, they have a bean-to-bar chocolate factory and public tasting room that provides an outlet and direct link to the small farmed resources of their cacao. Having been featured in Food and Wine Magazine, Martha Stewart and as guests on Good Morning America, among others- be sure to keep an eye on this team of thinkers.I feel certain we are only seeing the beginning of ideas infused by their passion. Jael Rattigan goes a little deeper into their story and the overall philosophy of their business culture:


So, what started your love affair with chocolate?


There are two significant events that set us on our path in chocolate.
Dan and I had a fateful moment early on in our relationship, before we gave birth to businesses and babies. At the time, I was in a business school MBA program and Dan was in law school. One evening, we were in my tiny, Minneapolis kitchen, where I was making chocolate truffles and caramels for my family and friends for Christmas presents. I got a tingly feeling in my hands and stared down at my open palms and said aloud to Dan, “This is it. Chocolate is what will make me happy.” After searching for a fulfilling career for years, I finally felt like I had an answer. Dan had the vision and faith to believe in me, and take that revelation seriously. Together, we’ve been forging our path in chocolate ever since.

As important to our story was our decision to quit our grad school programs to live and work in Costa Rica for two years. We opened a cafe and bakery called Bread & Chocolate, and had the fortune of working with locally made chocolate, meeting cacao farmers and engaging with cacao in its habitat. That’s how cacao became our lifestyle and our passion.


Tell me about your “lightbulb” moment or planning strategy for eventually building your production facility-


As business owners, we believe that we have a responsibility to take care of the people who are impacted by our business. This includes our community of customers, our employees, and the people who grow and produce the ingredients we use in our chocolates and desserts. We are always seeking ways we can do better, and are constantly refining our supplier list in order to work directly with as many farmers and producers as we can. We’re buying either locally or directly our fruits, berries, herbs, nuts, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and dairy. One day we had the lightbulb moment that we could do a heck of a lot better with the one ingredient at the heart of our business – chocolate! Yes, we were buying organic and fair trade chocolate, but we had no relationship with the farmers who grew it or the processors who ferment and dry it at the source. We decided this was something we could change – and that it would improve our product, while making us feel better about our business. We built our Chocolate Factory in 2012, and have been building relationships with cacao farmers and cooperatives, and directly importing cacao ever since. We’ve personally talked with every organization we’ve purchased from, and after an upcoming trip to Nicaragua in April, will have met them in person as well.


Sustainability- you are one of the leaders in the community- what do you feel are some of the biggest efforts you’ve made to date and any other aspirations?

French Broad Chocolate Lounge is a Certified Green Restaurant, which is a comprehensive sustainability initiative, that includes energy efficiency, local and organic ingredients, responsible waste policies, water efficiency, sustainable packaging, and reduction in chemicals and pollution. We are happy to be one of only seventeen 4-star certified restaurants in the country!

We also like to include the people impacted by our business in the sustainability equation. We are a Living Wage Certified business, as it is important to us that we are taking care of our employees to the best of our ability. Also, we work directly with farmers and producers as much as we can, so that we can be sure the growers are fairly compensated for their work.


What can you tell people about the many uses/forms of working with cacao beyond the wonderful pleasure of consumption. The health benefits?


We love using cacao nibs as an ingredient in baking and savory cooking. The crunchy and bitter vittles are the broken up seed (or bean, as they are commonly called) of cacao. It’s basically the raw material used to make chocolate. Once roasted, they taste of chocolate, but without the addition of sweetener. They can also impart nuttiness, or fruity acidity, depending on the variety and how they’re roasted. They are excellent additions to cookies, granola, stir fry, or salads.

Nibs provide all the health benefits of chocolate – antioxidants, flavonoids, and heart-healthy fats – without the potential health impacts of the addition of sugar.

We believe measured indulgence is an important part of nourishing one’s soul, and that decadent desserts can be a part of a healthy diet. Small luxuries are part of having a positive relationship with food, and one’s body.


Any plans on the horizon that you are willing to share?


We are excited that we have recently signed a lease at 10 S Pack Square, right next to the Asheville Art Museum, where we will be relocating the Chocolate Lounge! With this move, we’ll be redesigning our systems to better serve our customers and we’ll have the possibility of an outdoor patio. Additionally, we’ll be opening an adjacent chocolate boutique, where folks can purchase boxes of chocolates, chocolate bars, and gifts without entering the Chocolate Lounge. We’re also excited to announce we’ll start producing our own line of ice cream! The use of organic dairy, as well as fun French Broad Chocolates inclusions, like our own cookies, brownies, and caramel will make this ice cream line unique to Asheville. We’ll also be retooling the factory – bringing truffle production from the Lounge down to the factory, redesigning our educational space, and improving our retail offerings. It’s going to be a lot of positive change! But it is our ultimate goal to have the Chocolate Lounge retain its identity and feel like the same place to our guests. Just better!

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