Brad Churchill with fresh roasted cacao beans
Have you ever thought about where chocolate comes from? Chocolate is a dominant part of our culinary lives, but do you know anyone who has ever actually made chocolate from scratch? Before I met Brad Churchill, owner of Choklat, opening Friday, August 8 in Inglewood, I had not. It’s not too surprising, as Churchill’s company is only the second in Canada now doing it (Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto is the other).
When you boil it down, chocolate in its purest form really consists of only a few ingredients: cocoa and cocoa butter with sugar and milk solids or condensed milk added into the mix when producing dark or milk chocolates.
Churchill, an entrepreneur in the truest sense, is an interesting guy to say the least. Before becoming obsessed with chocolate, the 41-year-old was a jack of all trades. Years ago, he managed a Domino’s Pizza. The job would serve as inspiration in his current venture. He worked as a contract software developer for several years and founded one of Canada’s top log-furniture outfits, Stix Furniture.
A few years ago, Churchill popped into a prominent local retail chocolate shop, but came away finding the experience to be dissatisfying. His main point of contention was the narrow selection. As with most chocolate shops, you find yourself at the chocolatier’s whim, only able to purchase whatever they may have available on that particular day. Secondly, he wasn’t overly thrilled with the tastes of the various products. So he stopped and asked himself what seemed to be a fairly simple question: “I wonder if I could make my own at home?”
Really, how hard could it be?
His biggest challenge was to find cacao beans in quantities that he could work with. Three main producers currently dominate the chocolate industry: Barry Callebaut, Cargill and the Archer Daniels Midland Company, which all deal in gigantic volumes. Churchill quickly found out that unless you’re looking to buy units in the metric-tonne range, most suppliers will not do business with you.
Churchill was eventually able to get his hands on some cacao beans and started to produce chocolate in his kitchen. “It felt like a million dollars,” he says, recalling what he felt when he was finally able to produce his first batch of chocolate. “It was a hard three-month process to get everything in place, so when it was finally done, I thought, ‘Hey! I can do this. This is great!’”
Over time, Churchill conducted Internet research, read many books, spent several late nights and a lot of time on the phone with co-ops in developing countries, simply trying to get cacao beans from them. “It’s like walking into the Alberta Wheat Pool and asking for five pounds of grain. It just doesn’t happen,” he laughs.
Churchill refined his processes, and the quality of his chocolate got better and better. His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and the idea for Choklat was born. Reaching back to his pizza pie roots, he then decided to let the consumer customize their own products. Upon visiting the company’s website at www.sochoklat.com, you’ll find that it’s easy to build yourself a custom order of truffles, picking the preferred type of chocolate base, filling and what the truffle should or should not be rolled in. The possibilities are plentiful.
Those who want to visit the store and select their truffles in person should expect a 10- to 15-minute turnaround. The staff will gladly complete orders on demand, but it will take five minutes or so in the freezer to solidify the final product before wrapping.
Churchill envisions the client experience as a memorable one that brings back fond memories. “I’d like to see the customer’s experience to be almost like a transition back to being a kid in a candy store,” he says. “It’s the excitement of trying something new, the smile on their face expressing the enjoyment of what they’re eating.”
He has a simple yet refreshing take on Choklat’s role in the marketplace. “It should be fun and enjoyable without all of the pretentiousness that’s currently in the high-end chocolate industry.”
Choklat is located at 1327A Ninth Ave. S.E.; phone, 403-475-0453.