Charles Chocolates: A Triumphant Return

Chuck Siegel, the owner of Charles Chocolates, says he couldn't be more delighted with the neighborhood where his business recently opened. The retail space, café (coming soon), and kitchen, where customers can watch his pavé, bars, and pastries being made, have taken over the 7,600-square foot space on Florida and Mariposa that used to house the Potrero Brewing Company.

Judging by the sample of customers who came into the chocolate store in a fairly short time, there's plenty of delight to go around. A woman who works at the Blue Bottle Café in the Heath Ceramic store around the corner comes in to get some chocolate bars; an old friend stops by with his daughter who went to school with Siegel's; and a man hauls off and gets a dozen tins of the triple chocolate almonds (the store's best seller) for his wife. All of them enthusiastically tell Siegel how glad they are he is open again for business.

Siegel found the space by accident – walking around the neighborhood, he smelled cooking and went into the building, which Zynga was using temporarily as a commissary for its employees.

"It was open and airy, and I really loved the shape of the front room. And I had space to do this," Siegel says, gesturing to the workers seen through the windows of the kitchen.

Although it pained him, Siegel has gotten rid of some menu items – the shop will only sell his beloved marzipan at Christmastime, for example. But new items have been added. Now that Charles Chocolates has a patio with heat lamps to sit and drink hot chocolate and tea, the shop will sell tarts, cookies, and cake.

Siegel made his first truffles for his girlfriend's birthday in college, and opened his first business 25 years ago. He is self-taught, but says he had a lot of help from some heavy-hitters in the world of chocolate, such as Alice Medrich of Cocolat, and Joseph Schmidt of Joseph Schmidt Confections. "I just cold-called them and told them what I wanted to do," Siegel says. "They were remarkable."

Because of the help he got, Siegel wants his business to be an incubator for other chocolatiers. "A wonderful thing about the food industry is it can function like an apprenticeship," Siegel says. "The ultimate goal of many of the people working here is to open their own chocolate company. But we're not teaching them the business side of it. An incubator will let us do both."

To open the space, Siegel used Kickstarter. Besides funding his kitchen, using the site had unexpected benefits, he says.

"More than half of the people we had never heard of," Siegel says. "They were not on our mailing list or friends on Facebook. Along with keeping up with our previous customers, we made new ones."

Charles Chocolates. 535 Florida, 659-8770.

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