By Benjamin Fordham
Do you like chocolate? You do? Do you like locally made, non-conflict sourced, hand-crafted chocolate? Yes? What if I told you that every time you eat a piece of Humboldt Chocolates chocolate, a baby kitten falls in love? Well, I made that up. But still, they’re really, really good.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, owner Johan Ginsberg and his crew at Humboldt Chocolate are hard at work creating the delicacies that will make your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/lover swoon. Or just eat them yourself.
Formerly Sjaak’s Chocolates, Ginsberg purchased the business a year and a half ago after founder Jacques Holton decided to rebrand as an all-organic business and relocate to Petaluma. After a brief run as Venlo Chocolates, the business and storefront were up for sale again. The real estate agent for the business was none other than Ginsberg, and when it was slow to sell he decided to buy it himself.
In October they rolled out the new name and new slogan, “Radically Indulgent Chocolates”, but kept the same blocky shape made famous by Sjaak’s. With the help of graphic designer Noah Samson at Visual Concepts, Ginsberg came up with a new label, one he felt was a little more reflective of the area: down-to-earth, no frills, kind of bad-ass. “It made sense,” says Ginsberg of the new label. “It’s what we are.”
Taking over a chocolates business was a bit of a learning curve for Ginsberg. He recalls his first late-night attempt at chocolate covered pretzels, which yielded an ill-shaped, but still delicious, chocolate-pretzel ball. “I had no idea how temperamental chocolate is,” he says. “The tempering point is different for every type of chocolate.”
But save for some late night adventures, Ginsberg didn’t tinker too much with the successful business model he inherited. “I’ve tried to change as little as possible,” he says. “I was lucky enough to keep the whole staff.” That staff has carried on the Belgian chocolate-making tradition that goes back hundreds of years. “They come from those old-school recipes,” says head chocolatier Ken Buntin of the current batches of confections.
The Belgian tradition features different chocolate liqueurs, which give those rich, decadent creamy fillings. Ginsberg also kept most of the original products, such as the truffles, marzipans, and even chocolate covered banana slugs (not actual banana slugs).
There have been some business-related lessons along the way as Ginsberg learns the chocolate business. The price of chocolate has skyrocketed in recent years as Asia and India have become major consumers, while Ebola scares have curtailed supplies from Africa. When you’re purchasing thousands and thousands of pounds of chocolate every month like Ginsberg is, that can have a major effect on your business.
But Ginsberg is not daunted, and even has plans to grow the business outside of Humboldt County. He’s been working with Humboldt Made, and has been delivering the product himself, building face-to-face relationships with vendors. “It’s hectic, but rewarding,” he says of his new responsibilities.
So if you want to help out a locally-owned and operated business (by eating chocolate) buy some Humboldt Chocolate today. It’s win-win.
Pick up some Humboldt Chocolate at their Eureka, California location at 425 Snug Alley (between 1st and 2nd Streets), order online by visiting Humboldtchocolate.com, or call them at (707) 445-8015.