Life after chocolate
What does a successful, award-winning chocolatier do after she decides to stop selling chocolates?
We met up with Anni Golding, owner of the former Gateau et Ganache, whose intensely flavorful chocolates and pretty flower-shaped marshmallows we remember fondly, to see what the next chapter turned out to be and get her take on the business of artisan chocolate.
First, some background: Anni started Gateau et Ganache in Palo Alto in 2004 with culinary school experience, training in Paris in pastry and confections, and the idea to do both (hence the name). She figured out pretty quickly that the gateau part was not going to work logistically, so she concentrated on the ganache part.
She used quality ingredients, such as local seasonal fruits and herbs, in her bon bons, truffles and marshmallows, put them in beautiful packaging, won lots of awards, and sold a lot of chocolate. We first met her at the 2010 SF Chocolate Salon and were impressed with her “small indulgences.”
So what happened?
“In 2012, I was approached by a writer for SFoodie, who wanted to write about Gateau et Ganache,” Anni told us, “But you have to be in a physical store in San Francisco to be written about, and I ended up connected with Michael from CocoaBella [a local store that carried a selection of premiums chocolates from around the world, including Oakland’s Michael Mischer and Napa Valley’s Kollar — it has closed].
“Having my chocolates at CocoaBella opened things up for me. And it became clear that I was on the threshold of ‘More’: More time, more money, more people. Plus I needed to find a new space because at that time I was working in 2 separate spaces: a commercial kitchen and an office.
“But the Peninsula has a lack of commercial kitchen space – business opportunity for someone! – and most of the spaces I saw on the Peninsula needed a lot of work, and there was a lack of quality, available space that met the needs of my business.
“Then there’s the biggest hurdles, which are the cost of ingredients and labor. There are a lot of challenges for small businesses.”
Tipping point or breaking point?
“I’d had no life since I started this in 2004,” Anni continued. “No vacation, no days off. And now I was thinking, “Should I take on a partner? Find financing?’… When I started, there weren’t a lot of other artisan chocolatiers doing this kind of work: small-batch, French-style bonbons, with a focus on local, organic ingredients. There was Dennis (of now-closed Coco Délice) and me… maybe a few others around the Bay Area? None on the peninsula. I had started with one flavor of chocolate and one flavor of marshmallows. But now [in 2012] there were a number of other chocolatiers, and I had done a lot of good stuff, got noticed, won awards. So, when it came time to decide whether to scale up or move on to other projects, I was thinking, ‘I’m good.’
“It was a tough decision, I love the business, but I was moving away from what I love: working with chocolate, and moving permanently into a management role — not fun. So I had a day of clarity, and that helped me make the decision to close the business. That was in August 2012, but I wanted to finish out the year, so the official close date was Dec. 31, 2012.”
“After I closed, there was another 6-9 months of details, tax stuff, equipment to sell. And I needed some downtime after all that,” she explained.
In 2013, Anni started 650Food.com, a blog about food topics centered around the 650 area code on the San Francisco Peninsula. “I have a degree in technical writing, and I love the writing right now,” she said.
“And I planted my first garden in decades. Number one, I wanted to grow mint because I could never get enough peppermint for my mint chocolates. I use it to make simple syrups. I’m growing lemon verbena and lavender for desserts and syrups. And I love peppers — so I’m growing two kinds of jalapenos.
“My neighbor has lived in his house since 1960 and always grows amazing tomatoes, so I decided to grow one tomato plant, and lettuce because lunch is always salad.
“I always had a healthy diet, and now that’s in vogue. So I’m writing about what we have locally, what chefs are doing with it, and what you can do with it.”
The blog is centered on 650, but it’s intentionally broad. “I get to focus on what interests me. I’d like to do lists, like 5 unknown taquerias in the area; or alternative diets — where you can get gluten-free, vegan, GMO-free — and which chefs are buying from local farmers.”
“I want you to know your food, know what’s in your food, and support your local businesses. Having been there, it’s one of those things I think is really important.
“My intent in culinary school and training in Paris was to open a small pastry shop in Palo Alto, but the real estate agent said rent would be $10,000 plus triple net [tenant pays all costs associated with the property, like taxes, in addition to the rent]. I don’t see how people can do it. I figured I couldn’t sell that much pastry.
“It’s a real Catch-22. You need to build a business and a nest egg to get a space. But you need a space to do that. Finally, it’s a leap of faith to take on a space.
“When I was just starting up Gateau et Ganache, I ended up taking a trip to Japan, where I researched their style of packaging confections — packaging is very important to convey quality — and I put a lot into our packaging.
“All of this goes into the price of the product. In the past decade, especially in the Bay Area, people have gotten educated about food quality and the higher prices you pay for better quality. But a lot of what I had to do in my first years was educating customers: ‘Why are you so expensive compared to See’s? I can go to See’s and get a pound of chocolates for 8 bucks.’ I had to explain the higher quality ingredients; they’re local, organic, and it takes 24-30 hours to make these chocolates by hand.”
Recipe for success
So if a retail space was out of reach, how was Anni able to sell chocolate and develop a reputation for high-end chocolate?
“I never did farmer’s markets. It just didn’t seem to make sense to me. Instead I went with local grocery stores: Draeger’s, Bianchini’s and Piazza’s, who are all family-run, higher-end grocery stores and were all supportive of local businesses. Alexandra, the buyer from Draeger’s was always super supportive, and she would go to the chocolate salons and bring in new local chocolatiers to the San Mateo store.
“The customers were there too. Every time I did an in-store demo at Piazza’s, I’d sell out.
“It’s hard to get local artisan chocolate onto store shelves,” Anni explained, because shelf life is an issue. “My chocolate didn’t have any preservatives. I’ve always said that anything that can sit on a store shelf for 9 months before selling is not a food. After years of experience in the food world, I’ll amend that statement and say that there are some amazing small foodcrafters who are creating delicious preserves, jams, pickles, and so on that do extend the shelf life of certain foods. But when it comes to confections, I still believe fresh is best.”
So now that she’s no longer selling chocolate, what might we see chocolate-wise from Anni?
“I hang onto my recipes and techniques. They give me options for the future, like classes or cookbooks,” she told us. “I might do classes or consulting, teaching people about artisan foods. I’ve learned a lot. On the pastry side, people are willing to share. That’s more me.
“I’m not a hot-side cook, but I really love fresh food. One of the draws of chocolate for me was using seasonal produce in my chocolates. We have such wonderful food here. You don’t need to salt it up, and you don’t need a ton of garlic or cheese to flavor vegetables.
“Stealing a line from a friend of mine: ‘I’ve got to pick a major at some point’,” she said, but for now the blog is where she’s focused. In her articles, she wants to encourage people to be more conscious about food issues. “I try to be specific, but not overly detailed, and look at food issues that interest me without being preachy.
She mentioned a couple of topics we can look forward to: food deserts, “a lot of people don’t have access to healthy food,” and uniquely California food topics, “we have a farm-to-fork office in California —ya gotta love that.”
“I want it to be educating and entertaining,” she said.
No problem there. Check out 650Food.com and see for yourself.
A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.
Date posted: December 20, 2014. This entry was posted in Featured, Local chocolate and tagged artisan, blog, Chocolate Salon, Coco Delice, Cocoa Bella, cooking class, Draegers, farm to fork, French, Gateau & Ganache, handmade, health, jalapeno, Kollar Chocolates, lavender, lemon verbena, locally sourced, marshmallows, Michael Mischer, organic, peppermint, See's Candies, SF Peninsula, small-batch. Bookmark the permalink.