Dick Taylor Chocolate is actually two people: Adam Dick and Justin Taylor. Adam’s the mustachioed one on the left; Justin’s the toqued one on the right.
These former carpenters make chocolate from the bean in their workshop in Arcata, California. A friend of mine from northern California tells me that it’s an odd place for chocolate, because it’s not the most, ahem, cosmopolitan place. But Adam and Justin maintain that it’s the perfect place for them to make chocolate, citing Cypress Grove, the award-winning cheese company, as one of the area’s better-known food artisans.
All this makes me want to visit Arcata, especially after reading this enRoute story about California’s lost coast, which, according to Google Maps, is only an hour outside of Arcata. Tall pines and chocolate? Sign me up.
I spoke with Adam and Justin in Seattle last fall. Here’s a snippet of the conversation.
What is Dick Taylor Chocolate known for?
AD: We’re small-batch bean to bar chocolate makers in Northern California.
How did you come to chocolate?
AD: We’re both carpenters by trade and we’ve always been fascinated with woodworking and finely crafting things. We’ve done lots of furniture work, we’ve built and restored some wood boats. The idea of taking something like a rustic commodity, like a rough-sawn board and transforming it into a piece of furniture, we love that kind of stuff.
So that just translated [into chocolate] as a friend of ours introduced us to some of the American makers. The idea of converting this raw cacao bean into a smooth, silky chocolate bar is really cool, coupled with the fact that we’ve always been the type to…if you could buy something, that was cool. But why buy it if you could make it, you know? We’re always kind of driven by that. So we’re like oh, we can buy chocolate, but we can make it! And the process is so fascinating that it just kind of clicked with us.
Prior to making chocolate, did you work together as carpenters?
JT: Oh yeah. We worked together as carpenters, we play together in a band, we were roommates for a while, so we’ve known each other for a really long time. We’re basically like brothers.
What’s the best part of your job?
JT: Personally I like the roasting, the smells around the shop and when things are going smooth, that’s the best part of the job. When the machine goes down and the chocolate comes out looking gnarly, then you just really want to hit your head on the counter and think my god, what is going on?
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
AD: I think there’s daily challenges, like how are we going to temper this chocolate. I mean, we run those challenges being a small business, but what’s been interesting for us, you know, we’ve had a business model where we haven’t had any investment capital other than a little money that we put into it.
So right off the bat, any money we made would go back into the business. And now we’re looking at a place where we also need to put money back into the business because we want to buy different machinery or we want to source different beans, but we also need to start paying ourselves something or else our wives are going to revolt.
So it’s that trick as a small business of, if we had $200,000 right now in our pockets, it would be sweet. We could buy some different machinery, some beans we’ve been looking at and life wouldn’t be a drag. So it’s this constant struggle as a small business, with the model that we have, about not really wanting to be in debt, or as little debt as we can. To try to grow, do all the cool things we want to do. In time.
What would you do if you weren’t making chocolate?
JT: Carpentry…probably trying to build more furniture and stuff. [laughs]
In carpentry we kind of weasled ourselves into doing fine carpentry and we both have set up mill shops in our garages. Through that we collected old tools from the early 1900s through the 1950s, restored those and that’s kind of translated in the beauty of chocolate. These old tools, these old-fashioned ones are really the ones we yearn for. They’re the ones that are just rusty and gnarly that we can fix up…because then there’s a romance to them. There’s a story behind it. If you fix up a tool, it’s part of the family.