French Broad Chocolate Company Owners Fell for Each Other and Chocolate, Creating One of America’s Trendiest Cocoa Confectionaries.
Call it the ultimate bittersweet romance. Introduced at a wedding, Daniel and Jael Rattigan were smitten by one another and the allure of chocolate. “It was simultaneous magic,” Jael recalls. “While we were dating I discovered a chocolate cookbook, Bittersweet, with recipes inspired by Scharffen Berger, one of the first contemporary bean-to-bar chocolate companies in the U.S. One day when Dan was in my kitchen in Minneapolis and I was cooking up a frenzy making chocs and caramels for my family and friends as holiday gifts, I had an epiphany. My hands were covered in chocolate and I felt a tingling sensation. I lifted them in front of my face and said, ‘Chocolate is the thing. Chocolate will bring me happiness.’”
Inspired by this “aha moment,” they made tracks for Costa Rica, eventually opening “Bread and Chocolate,” a café and dessert shop so successful they became fervent missionaries for chocolate, even purchasing an abandoned cacao farm in that country. After selling Bread and Chocolate, the two migrated to Asheville, selling artisan chocolates made in their home kitchen online and at local farmer’s markets. Demand grew so rapidly that in 2008 the couple expanded their French Broad Chocolate Company (named for the French Broad River in Asheville) by opening the French Broad Chocolate Lounge downtown.
Within the first year, growing throngs of customers forced them to expand, taking over the second and third floors of the building and bringing total seating capacity to 90. “People definitely hang out here,” Jael says. “During the day it’s more of a coffee shop vibe, but at night it transforms into a social scene, with people going on dates or coming in for a nightcap and dessert.”
The menu at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is a chocoholic’s fantasy. Highlights include the signature Coconut Macaroon Brownies, Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte and a dense chocolate Highland Mocha Stout Cake featuring Counterculture coffee buttercream. Also on tap are to-die-for ganache and chocolate-bar based drinking chocolates. Ganache comes in flavor options including cayenne and cinnamon, lavender and honey or maple and smoked sea salt. Bar-based drinks include dark vegan chocolate; malted milk; Oaxaca, a Mexican style hot chocolate; or the daring Xocolatl, a bitter cup of unsweetened cacao, locally ground corn, chiles, spices and almond milk.
“Dan and I developed the original repertoire of recipes,” Jael notes. “But since then our company has grown so we now have a pastry and confectionary staff of twelve people. Although we keep the main menu very consistent for our customers, we leave room for several items to allow for creativity by our staff.”
Asked what she and Dan would order for a Valentine’s Day date, Jael doesn’t hesitate. “The most romantic is the Liquid Truffle, a rich, decadent sipping chocolate that coats your mouth, makes you close your eyes and savor the feeling. It’s extremely sensuous and would be lovely to share.”
If all this isn’t enough for serious chocolate lovers, there’s also Chocolate + Milk, the Rattigans’ grab and go chocolate, ice cream and coffee boutique one block away from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Those on the run can pick up truffles or sample one of 130 chocolate bars from their “chocolate library” of the best craft chocolate makers around the globe, and then buy a bar for the road.
Small wonder the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is now on the culinary radar of the country’s top foodies and culinary critics, including the Washington Post, not just for the tempting menu delights, but quality of the beautifully handcrafted chocolates, which is driven by the Rattigans’ commitment to sustainability in sourcing, production and shipping.
Never Too Much Chocolate
Encouraged by their smash hit with the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, in 2012 the Rattigans took another step in becoming one of America’s finest bean-to-bar chocolatiers by launching the French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room. In this venture they import beans from the finest cacao farms, and then handle every step of the labor intensive chocolate making process from roasting to tempering, turning the end product into chocolate bars that are a true delicacy for the taste buds.
As of 2016, the French Broad Chocolate Company train continues picking up steam, as more outlets around the country, including Whole Foods, seek their products. “We’re in the planning stages of expanding our factory by a multiple of ten,” Jael reports. “We are excited about getting our chocolate bars in the hands of more customers. We’re constantly turning down requests for new accounts, and we also love the opportunity to collaborate with chefs and provide our chocolate for their own recipes. We’ve only deepened our commitment to chocolate.”
Their next goal is harvesting the first crop from that abandoned cacao farm they purchased in Costa Rica years ago. All said, it’s one bittersweet romance with a happy ever after ending.