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TCHO New American Chocolate
NEW AMERICAN CHOCOLATE

The three year pregnancy

What I love about a start up is building something from scratch. The last time I did it with Wired, we had the advantage of essentially building software (media is software that ships on time). In the end, whether writing, editing, designing, laying out books, making TV shows, or building websites, it was about pushing pixels around a screen.

Chocolate is different. Chocolate is atoms, and is made with atoms (great big tons of atoms), and atoms are definitely not pixels. They can’t be pushed around, and they obey immutable laws that are barely susceptible to human will. My father was a mechanical engineer, and every day I walk into the factory, I develop new respect for him and his challenges.

It’s taken three years of nonstop effort, lots of sweat, tears, and even blood moving those atoms into position to get to this moment –- and I suppose I’m feeling lucky right now that it’s only taken three years.

There are no words to express the relief and joy and sense of accomplishment that this picture (thanks Johnny Grace) represents: our first 1.0 chocolate formulation (“Chocolatey”), hot off the TCHO-refurbished (by Doug in grey tee shirt) Bosch SIG wrapping machine, in our final 1.0 packaging, in our first POP (point-of-purchase) display.

Tom calls it going external. I call it giving birth. After a three year pregnancy. Phew.

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Robert Steinberg—Friend, Mentor, Pioneer

Robert Steinberg at TCHO in July, two months before his passing.

Everyone making fine chocolate in the United States today, and a great many consumers that enjoy the great artisanal chocolates being made owe a debt of gratitude to Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate.  Robert passed away last month and yesterday was a memorial service in his honor.  I missed this service, busy as Robert often was, celebrating life.

Robert was unrelenting in his search for great cacao beans and while doing so never minced words and was passionate about getting it right.  I first came into contact with Robert and his co-founder, John Scharffenberger, in 1998 soon after Scharffen Berger Chocolate released their groundbreaking 70% bar which has been a standard bearer in our industry.  That bar rocked the chocolate and chocoholics world!  I treasure having met Robert back then when they were working out of a small industrial space in South San Francisco and to have worked together as their company grew.

As a broker of specialty cacao, Robert pushed me to understand that great chocolate can only be made from great cacao, seems obvious, but the lesson behind the lesson is that it is possible….  It is possible to find really great cacao by working directly and closely with your suppliers.  And it is possible to make really great chocolate, not just o.k. chocolate because that is what you could make out of the raw materials available or what lesser chocolates could afford.

Whenever you lose someone close, someone you respect, we always wish we had spent more time together.  TCHO had the privilege of having Robert over to our factory a few months ago. It was great to see Robert and hear of his continued commitment and adventures, working with an NGO and cacao farmers in Honduras starting from genetic selection to help regenerate the cacao industry in that country.

Having moved to San Francisco to join TCHO, I know I am following in Robert’s footsteps, helping to start a chocolate company and make great chocolate based on great cacao by supporting the farmers, cooperatives and exporters that make it possible.

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Product Revolution

Carl Nolte’s recently wrote an article titled “Some things are better now than in the ‘good old days.’” In the article, he sites Peet’s coffee, Boudin’s bread and Anchor Steam beer as examples of products that started a product quality revolution so that now, grocery aisles are filled with great bread, great coffee can be had on almost every street corner and better beer can be had in every bar.

According to Nolte, Narsai David, a regional food expert, credits “the young people who demanded better products. We had a whole generation of kids who had it good all their lives. They created a taste and a demand for better stuff.” So the Bay Area can now claim great coffee, great bread and great beer.

We at TCHO believe that this demanding generation of kids, the Millennials, is now creating a taste and demand for better chocolate. Just as Peet’s, Boudin’s and Anchor Steam created their own product revolutions, so will TCHO.

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TCHO Web 1.0

Whew, it was a long time in development, but TCHO Web 1.0 is finally live and kickin!

This was a gargantuan effort that spanned many talents and many hands.  First selecting a state-of-the-art e-Commerce platform that would be completely open-source and meet our growing needs, then on to the designers to create the look and feel that reflects who we are.

Then, who to build it?  Who better than the team that produced Magento in the first place, Varien?  We worked with Varien over the course of several weeks to get the design built and the back-end all put together.

Of course, they were tapped mainly to get the store and the overall site framework built.  The rest of the content, including our killer homepage carousel, and moving the existing content from our TCHO Beta site, fell upon the inimitable Ari Salomon, several of our illustrious interns, and myself.  I would say the bulk of the heavy lifting has gone to Ari, and I can’t stress how great he is as a creative thinker, designer, and in overall website production.  Please let us know what you think!

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Person, Place, or Thing—Ann Arbor!

So, on my way back from New York I stopped to visit my dad in Ann Arbor. When I’m in Ann Arbor the first thing I do is head to Zingerman’s

to stock up on some of the best cheeses

this planet has to offer and some of their delicious bread.

A little later on, like maybe the next day, I head back to Zingerman’s for the thing that put them on the culinary map: their sandwiches. My favorite happens to be the #1 Who’s Greenberg Anyway?  A corned beef and chopped liver fantasy.

People waiting in line for their sandwiches or maybe smoked white fish.

Surveying the world of olive oils with an ever helpful Zingerman’s staff member.

Zingerman’s even introduced Ann Arbor to Rhode Island’s state drink: coffee milk! They make it themselves rather than using the bottled stuff. Fantastic!

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Strange…

I was at my desk the other day and I heard my voice coming from across the room. It took me a second to recognize it because I don’t hear my own voice recorded often. Louis was watching a video on Wired of me in the lab talking about some of the steps of how we make chocolate.

 

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What it means to be CEO

Don’t know where I read it, but someone in Legacy Media once asked Michael Dell and Steve Jobs their takes on what it means to be CEO. This was back when Michael Dell was king of the computer hill and his company could do no wrong, famously telling Steve Jobs, who had recently taken over the ailing Apple, that he should do his shareholders a favor and just liquidate the business.

Perhaps the reason that Apple is now worth three times Dell can be found in the answers the two CEOs gave.

Dell, who pioneered web sales and just-in-time manufacture, gave a very B-school answer: His job, he said, was to empower his managers, providing them whatever they needed so that they could do the best job they were able to.

Jobs’s answer? He said his job was to inspire his staff to achieve what they had previously thought was impossible.

Don’t know that there’s a right answer.

What I do know is what Hopper said:

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