Specialty Food Magazine

SUMMER 2015

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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"We wanted to open a store that celebrated chocolate, with a curated collection of the best chocolate around the world," he says. The original idea was to create a comfortable space, "that honored chocolate's history," and to feature two components: premium solid bars from small-scale producers and a selection of drinking choco- lates. Early on, however, the drinking chocolates won such a devoted fan base, Manis and Lindley decided to emphasize the beverage side of the business more than they'd planned. "Both components do well for us, but we switched our focus based on what our customers embraced," Manis says. Location and Atmosphere… When the partners were first scouting neighborhoods, Portland's West End was an up-and- coming part of town that still had grit and rough edges. But they saw the potential for foot traffic from a growing core of young residents as well as tourists, and they liked that it was near the Pearl District, the city's cobblestone arts and retail enclave. In their nine years there, they've watched the area go more upscale and earn a reputation for its innovative restaurants and food culture. "The neighborhood was burgeoning in 2006 but, now, it's arrived," Manis says. The 1,300-square-foot space has a main counter that gives way to a cozy seating area. The tables and chairs seat about 20 custom- ers, who blissfully sip chocolate from miniature white mugs while nibbling on the shortbread cookies Cacao stocks from Bakeshop, a local Portland bakery. The business also has a smaller shop inside a downtown hotel, which has a counter with four stools and a more limited selection. Drinking Chocolates… Three types of drinking chocolates, served cold, and two hot chocolates make up the beverage menu, with add-ins available, like a shot of espresso or nondairy milk. Made in-house, they feature such flavors as white mocha, cin- namon dark chocolate, and a cayenne-and-ginger blend, among others. "Our chocolate beverages are richer and thicker than usual," Manis says. "We use only natural ingredients and we embrace whole fats." For the uninitiated, the difference between the hot and cool beverages comes down to the ratio of milk to chocolate. "Both are made by us from solid chocolate we import, but the drinking choco- lates are richer and thicker than the hot chocolates because they contain a greater ratio of chocolate to milk and heavy cream," says Manis. "The hot chocolates contain no heavy cream." Drinking chocolates sell for $7 for 7 ounces or, for a lighter option, customers can get a 4-ounce size for $4 or a 2-ounce choco- late "shot" for $2. "Our drinking chocolate shots are hugely popular," Manis notes, as is the shop's chocolate f light: three 2-ounce shots of different drinking chocolates for $6. The sheer popularity of the drinking chocolates recently drove Manis and Lindley to debut a drinking chocolate mix for sale in the store that customers can make and enjoy at home. Product Selection and Top Sellers… Cacao's solid bars run the gamut, from dark to milk to sugar-free chocolate, which sells well. The shop stocks varieties from about 30 producers, including locals like Pitch Dark, based in Portland, Dick Taylor in California, and international representation from the likes of French chocolat- iers Bonnat and Cluizel. Manis says f lavor and quality are the main criteria when it comes to selecting which chocolates to stock. But he and Lindley also tend to go for makers that use ingredients sourced locally and from sustainable practices. While they use imported chocolate for their beverages, other ingredients, like milk and cream, come from local organic farms. Affordable pricing means strong-selling products all around. Solid bars and smaller bites alike sell well. "Bequet Celtic Sea Salt Caramels, for 50 cents each, are great sellers, as are the DeVries Nib Clusters for $1," Manis says. On the other end of the scale, Cacao stocks a small selection of premium chocolate bars at $18 to $22. Customer Base and Service… Cacao attracts a devoted fol- lowing of Portlanders, including families and couples, who enjoy lingering over mugs of deep, rich chocolate late into the day. (Open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, Cacao is a popular evening spot.) The shop also attracts tourists intent on sampling Portland's innovative food and drink offerings. Rounding out the concept is an emphasis on personalized service. "From the beginning, we've worked really hard to foster an intimate environment and build a one-on-one rapport with custom- ers," he says. The shop employs a staff of 10 fulltimers and one part-time employee. While the owners have no immediate plans to open another store, Cacao will continue to grow, Manis asserts. "It's important for me to be very hands-on and present with customers and staff," he says, "and that's where our focus is now." Cacao attracts a devoted following of Portlanders, including families and couples, who enjoy lingering over mugs of deep, rich chocolate late into the day. Esther Crain is a freelance writer who covers health, food, and lifestyle. SUMMER 2015 147

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