How many chocolatiers can San Francisco support? The more the merrier, says Chuck Siegel, owner of Charles Chocolates. Siegel’s soon-to-open Mission District shop will feature not only a kitchen and a retail store, but also a business incubator, to add to the city’s vibrant chocolate culture.
It’s the second time around for the candymaker. Charles Chocolates opened in 2004, but when its Union Square store suddenly closed in 2011 after losing a major investor, Siegel decided to retool the business. A year later, with a few new products and $53,000 raised through Kickstarter, the online fundraising tool, he’s nearing opening day, slated for early February — before the key chocolate-lover’s holiday, Valentine’s Day.
“There were 400 donors who represented that $53,000 that we raised on Kickstarter,” Siegel said, noting that only about half were Charles Chocolates customers.
“Half of them we don’t know,” he said, “and to me that was the most exciting part of it.”
Siegel started making chocolates in college, learning the chocolate trade over time. He describes himself as “self-taught with a bit of tenure.”
“I’ve learned a lot in 20 years, both about the product side and the business side of making chocolates.”
Now he hopes to extend that experience to others.
While candy companies usually grow out of mentor-apprentice relationships, Siegel noted a lack of information about the business side of running a confection company. To fill this need, his new store will serve as a business incubator, where individuals with a “stated intent” of starting a company down the road can learn about marketing, sales and the “economics of the industry.”
It’s a plan inspired by his own path as a chocolatier.
When Siegel started Charles Chocolates, he knew how to make candy, but not all the subtleties of running a business. In 2004 he sought help from Bay Area chocolatiers Alice Medrich at Cocolat and Joseph Schmidt at Joseph Schmidt Confections.
“Not only did they give me valuable information that helped me start my company, but along the seven-year path of owning that business, I could call them pretty much any time and ask them questions.”
San Francisco is home to an above-average number of chocolate companies, from large ones like Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger to small ones like Dandelion Chocolate, which opened a retail shop on Valencia Street in the Mission District in mid-November.
“My vision is a little different than everyone else’s,” Siegel said, “and that’s what makes it a fun and vibrant community of chocolatiers in the Bay Area.”
“It’s a market where all of us are forced to improve and innovate, and that’s fantastic.”