When Dan and Jael Rattigan met at a wedding in 2003, nothing expected was to occur again.
How else can one explain the two connecting to the point of dropping out graduate school, packing their lives into a 40-foot, vegetable oil-powered school bus (converted by Dan), and driving south to Costa Rica (having just learned Jael was pregnant), to Puerto Viejo de Limon, a small Caribbean village filled with fisherman, surfers and expatriates from around the world?
In quick succession, they opened a café and dessert shop, Bread & Chocolate; had their first son, Sam; and embraced cacao as a lifestyle. Nonetheless, after a year of studying and playing with chocolate recipes, serving the good people of Costa Rica, and getting married, Dan and Jael came to a realization that they are not beach people.
So Bread and Chocolate was sold to Tom Franklin, one of their cooks, originally from Baltimore. The Rattigan family hopped back in their bus to continue their journey as self-ordained chocolate missionaries, eventually stopping at Asheville, N.C.
Here French Broad Chocolates was born (as was their second son, Max). The business began out of their home kitchen, selling chocolates online and at local farmers markets. The demand quickly outgrew the space, and in 2008, French Broad Chocolate Lounge was opened, giving the people of Asheville a haven for indulgence.
In 2009, Chocolate Lounge was expanded to the second and third floors of its home at 10 S. Lexington Ave. In 2012, Dan and Jael’s dream of becoming a bean-to-bar chocolate maker was realized when they opened French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room.
Intent on nurturing connections to the source of their food, French Broad Chocolates imports cacao from our trusted farmers and transforms it into fine chocolate. The flavors of cacao, paired with ingredients thoughtfully selected for their integrity, provide inspiration for a compendium of confections and desserts. Thanks to ongoing demand and growth, this spring, the company will move production into a new 12,000-sq.-ft. plant.
Jael Rattigan talks sustainable chocolate, accountability and cheap flights below.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
I love hazelnuts and milk chocolate together. So if I had to choose one candy, it would be our Hazelnut Crunch bonbon. We blend our creamy, bean-to-bar milk chocolate with freshly roasted and ground hazelnut butter, then add crunchy bits of caramelized hazelnut to the mixture. We enrobe the center in a dark chocolate shell. It is so good and so satisfying and would really keep me going on the deserted island.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
A friend turned me onto Scott’s Cheap Flights. You sign up for this newsletter on their website and every day, they email you cheap flights around the world from various airlines and locations. It’s so fun to imagine going to far-flung locations. They find really good deals!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I literally asked myself that question until I was 29. That’s when I had the epiphany that chocolate was what would make my life happy and fulfilling. That’s been my career path ever since!
What issues concern you most about the confectionery/snack industry and why?
I am most interested in creating beautiful, wholesome and delicious chocolates in a way that is fair and respectful to all of the people it takes to make them — from the farmer to the chocolate maker to the customer.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
I am reading two books now: “White Hot Truth: Clarity For Keeping It Real On Your Spiritual Path From One Seeker To Another” by Danielle LaPorte; “Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul” by Shawn Askinosie, a very inspirational chocolate maker.
What is your pet peeve?
Making excuses instead of taking accountability. (I’m far from perfect and am definitely guilty of this from time to time!)
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
I think it would be fun to collaborate with a bunch of bean-to-bar chocolate makers to offer an awesome collection that features something distinct about each of us.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Decide your company’s mission and values, then document and communicate them. It holds you accountable as a business person, recruits the people who are aligned with your vision, tells your employees what direction to head and communicates to your customers what you stand for.
What excites you most about your job?
I’m so excited to be a part of the creative, collaborative and kind community of craft chocolate makers. Our so-called ‘competitors’ have become our teachers, students, allies, support network and close friends.