Our beginnings have helped to shape every piece of French Broad Chocolate; from a tiny cafe in Costa Rica to internationally celebrated bars and bonbons.
The Beginning - Costa Rica
When Dan Rattigan and Jael Skeffington met at a wedding in 2003, the course of each of their lives changed. After a trip together to Costa Rica, Jael and Dan realized that life in the Midwest just wouldn’t do. So they dropped out of graduate school, packed their lives into a 40-foot vegetable oil-powered school bus (converted by Dan), and drove south to Costa Rica. There, they bought an abandoned cacao plantation and started on a very chocolatey journey.
Destination: Puerto Viejo de Limon, a small Caribbean village filled with fisherman, surfers, and expatriates from around the world. Once parked in Puerto Viejo de Limon, Dan and Jael opened a café and dessert shop, Bread & Chocolate. It was there, in the apartment above the shop that their first son, Sam, was born. It was also there that their interest in cacao became a lifestyle. After a year of studying, playing with chocolate recipes, and serving the good people of Costa Rica, Dan and Jael came to a realization: They are not beach people. But Bread & Chocolate was an overwhelming success, and continues to this day…
Coming to Asheville
So Bread and Chocolate was sold to Tom Franklin, one of their cooks, originally from Baltimore, and Dan and Jael hopped back in their bus to continue their journey as self-ordained chocolate missionaries.
Somewhere along the way, Asheville, North Carolina, became their destination and French Broad Chocolate was soon born (as was their second son, Max). The business began out of their home kitchen, and the chocolates began making the rounds online and at local farmers markets. The demand quickly outgrew the space, and in 2008, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge was opened, giving the people of Asheville a haven for indulgence.
In 2009, after repeated scolding from the Fire Marshal for exceeding occupancy limits, the Chocolate Lounge was expanded to the second and third floors of its home on 10 S. Lexington Ave. But in 2014, the Lounge moved to its current Pack Square location in the center of downtown Asheville.
In 2012, Dan and Jael’s dream of becoming bean-to-bar chocolate makers was realized, and they opened French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room on Buxton Avenue in Asheville. Intent on nurturing connections to the source, French Broad Chocolate began sourcing cacao from trusted farmers and transforming it into fine chocolate, which we continue to this day. The flavors of cacao, paired with ingredients thoughtfully selected for their integrity, provide inspiration for a compendium of confections and desserts, which are humbly served to our patrons in Asheville and beyond.
But the tiny chocolate empire continues to expand! In November 2018, the factory on Buxton was moved to the Ramp Studios near UNC Asheville - offering 14,000 square feet of space and the ability to churn out nearly 50 tons of chocolate each year!
Our Namesake, The Mighty French Broad River
On Terroir… /ter-wär /
Ask a knowledgeable oenophile or chocophile about terroir, and they’ll likely talk about soil quality, micro-organisms, growing conditions and climate. But to us, a more resonant translation of terroir is a sense of place." To be sure, the factors listed above affect terroir and the products that come from a region or particular vineyard or farm, but we like to think of terroir as more than just an agglomeration of weather and soil. We regard terroir as the unique aspects of a place that influence and shape the products grown and made there. We’d like to expand this concept to include not just the growing conditions, but also how a place’s culture affects the products made there. When we moved to Asheville, we were smitten with the unfailing support of small, local business, and the loyalty given to our innovative community of farmers. We celebrated the collaboration we witnessed, as businesses typically considered “competition” worked side-by-side to learn, share, and solve problems. We set out to create great chocolates that were inspired by Asheville’s cultural terroir. We share importation of cacao with other regional chocolate makers, we include ingredients from local producers in our chocolates and desserts, and support our local farmers every chance we get.
The French Broad River is a symbol of this, a geographic stamp marking our relationship to Asheville, this beautiful mountain town in which we are blessed enough to be a part. The French Broad River has a long, deep history, bearing the distinction of being the third oldest river in the world.
The metaphor of the river has taken on new significance to us of late. As we meditate on chocolate, on how we can do justice to this craft, we often think about the only constant in life: change. We consider ourselves lifelong students, always looking to learn from our colleagues, our experiences, and our medium. We are committed to constant improvement, to never settle in. We’ll always roll up our sleeves and do the development work – that creativity is one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.