by John Anderson
Proprietor, Woodhouse Chocolate
My wife and I make chocolates for a living. In and of itself there is nothing strange about that, but while most chocolate companies are generations old businesses, prior to 2002 we had never made a chocolate in our lives. Not only were we going to hand make Belgian style chocolates (the most challenging in the world), but we were going to need to charge many times what Americans were accustomed to paying for them. So, what’s a couple to do? We started by making the deal that she would make the chocolates, and I would do everything else; an almost even split. My wife Tracy, a professional chef, spent the better part of two years learning the craft through training in Montreal, travel to Belgium to deconstruct their chocolates first hand, a great deal of reading, and, of course, a lot of trial and error. At the same time, my father-in-law and I gutted an 1890’s building back to stone and mud to build our store and kitchen. With that, we threw our doors open in April of 2004 hoping to succeed.
Belgian style chocolates are generally comprised of thin chocolate shells containing delicate whips and ganaches made from fruits, nuts, and other natural ingredients. They are very labor intensive and expensive to make, and because of their fresh ingredients, must be consumed in a short period of time. Just a few years ago, an American’s only access to these chocolates was by traveling to Belgium. Most in the US were perfectly satisfied with peanuts, nougat, and milk chocolate. Fortunately, with the Food Network and other media sources touting them, luxury chocolates have slowly been added to the list of fine wines and food on which Americans are willing to spend money. Marketing and distribution of such a specialty product has become far easier as people have moved to internet shopping from home. Expensive catalogs are no longer necessary (a difficult expense for a small company), and FedEx has solved the “freshness” problem.
At opening, we were confident that we had thought of everything, of course we were wrong, and have had to adjust every day. Perhaps the greatest fact we missed was the exact nature of our business. We assumed that we were in the food business while, we soon discovered, we are in the gift business. Perhaps 70% of everything we sell is intended to be given to someone else. Fully 50% of our business involves a major holiday with Christmas being the 800-pound gorilla.
With Valentine’s day coming up we are busy creating the gifts that will make your sweetheart happy. Chocolate equals happiness. What a nice business.
Proprietor, Woodhouse Chocolate
Woodhouse Chocolate is an upscale chocolate shop in Napa Valley, California, popular with celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey (mentioned more than once in her list of favorite things). Founded by John Anderson, a former winemaker and graduate of Claremont McKenna College, and his wife chocolate chef Tracy Wood Anderson, a graduate of Scripps College.
The store, in St. Helena, was inspired by the movie Chocolat.
- Vice President Dick Cheney
- Pierce Brosnan
- Priscilla Presley
- Star Jones
- Madonna (has packed samples in her guests’ party bags)
- Kate Capshaw and husband Steven Spielberg