Of course chocolate making is always a love story. But this one goes much deeper.
One look at Jael and Dan Rattigan and you know: these two are madly, hopelessly, ridiculously utterly SMITTEN with each other. Good thing, too. They live, work, and parent together in a veritable whirlwind of activity that would make most of us dizzy. We should mention that they own French Broad Chocolates, producing some of the most revered chocolate in the country. Needless to say, we’re a little smitten with THEM! Their story is a beautiful amalgam of all the things they love: community, sustainability, chocolate making and each other.
The Rattigans seem like a love at first sight kind of couple. “Well,” Jael laughs, “it was something at first sight!” The basic synopsis reads thus: Dan was catering at Jael’s brother’s wedding, there was an evening full of flirty glances, eyelash batting, and an overt “you’re cute!” from Dan, with the romantic crescendo of Jael coming in for a kiss at night’s end. Then, Dan says, “I asked her in. Cooking for people has always been the way I express my feelings, and I thought my best chance with this lady would be a one-two punch of homemade farm-to-table food and Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo.” Swoon!
Jael & Dan set up shop in Asheville, North Carolina several years ago, by way of Costa Rica where they owned a cafe, Bread & Chocolate. “We were searching for a place to settle, belong and dig deep roots. We found it. Our community of friends and colleagues is so amazing, our business is thriving, and our kids are happy.” The original vision was to make chocolates at home and sell them at local markets, but financial reality set in and the French Broad Chocolate Lounge was born.
“The big idea was to create a fine chocolate shop, with comfortable seating, so you could stay and be with your chocolate”, Jael says. “We wanted to create a beautiful space and a beautiful menu; to see the emotional impact of our creations in the experiences of our guests; to achieve financial comfort, so that we could further hone our place in the community and lighten our environmental impact, all the while living as decent human beings.”
Clearly, they are doing something right. Well, more than something. A lot of things. Every evening, there’s a line in the chocolate lounge that fills the front room and spills out of the front door onto the sidewalk. People come in droves for their famously sinful Liquid Truffle, a box of Salted Honey Caramels made from local honey
, one of their signature truffles (Vegan Fig & Port! Masala Chai! Mole Negro!) or a monumental slice of amazingly moist vegan chocolate cake. And, while there is no denying that the Rattigans make some of the best chocolate in the nation, there’s much more to it than that. Their commitment to sustainability and community is unparalleled, and it’s palpable from the minute you cross their threshold.
“Supporting our local farmers is still imperative to our company values. We seek to use all suitable ingredients that are grown in our foodshed…and we’ve made the commitment that if we can’t find it locally, we’ll try to find it direct from farmers or producers. If we can’t find it locally or direct, that’s when we rely on third party certification, such as organic or fair trade. Our definition of sustainability includes the environmental impact and growing practices, of course, but equally as important to us, is that our dollars fairly compensate the people involved in producing it (from farmer to server).”
We’ve all had an experiences with surly baristas, but the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is, refreshingly, the happiest of hives. The staff is not only knowledgeable and helpful, but they appear to truly love what they do. They SMILE, for crying out loud! The service industry has a notoriously high turnover rate, but the Rattigans retain employees for many years and promote nearly everyone into management roles. They are Living Wage Certified
, offer a cost-share on health care services and treat their peeps to an annual “Celebration of Awesomeness”, which this year included costumes, a staff talent show and karaoke. (“Epic”, says Jael.)
“Our hiring tactic is to hire the people above the skills. If we interview someone who is interesting, engaging, positive and intelligent”, Jael muses, “we’ll hire them. We can teach them to be a barista or server, but you can’t teach a positive attitude or genuine desire to serve others! Whether they’re artists, farmers or yoga teachers, we seek creative people who are engaged in living a full life.”
As if their story weren’t already perfectly charming, in 2012 the pair opened a chocolate factory and tasting room, engaging in a bean to bar process, much to the delight of the foodie community. Producing their own chocolate was the only way to make their current product even more sustainable, more community-minded and of even higher quality. “We are one of very few craft chocolate makers who are directly importing the cacao we use. It’s important to us that we have personal relationships with the growers and producers of cacao, especially since it’s grown so far from where we live.”
When asked why they’ve been so successful in love, community and chocolate, Jael thinks the answer is simple: “We believe in living in a state of generosity.”
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Photos courtesy of French Broad Chocolates