“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
— Charles M. Schulz
With Christmas wrapped up, Valentine’s Day making its mark, and Easter on the horizon, the notion of enjoying vast quantities of chocolate, or at least succumbing to a few morsels of sweet indulgence throughout the holidays goes without saying.
For those of us living on the First Coast, Peterbrooke Chocolatier is the brand that we know and rely upon for many of our holiday treats. While established in San Marco back in 1983, Peterbrooke has made a few changes along the way. Most notably, and finding demand exceeding the capacity of its original manufacturing facility, the company has recently moved to a larger and more convenient location in Mixon Town. It is near the rapidly emerging and dynamic neighborhood of Brooklyn. The company moved into a former bacon slicing factory that once belonged to Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers, back when Mixon Town was a working-class neighborhood bustling with industry. Peterbrooke’s pioneering choice to invest in a part of our urban core that needs revitalization is a testimony to its dedication to making life on the First Coast a little sweeter.
This summer, Peterbrooke will be opening its doors to the community and to tourists at large as a decadent destination for chocolate lovers. On top of regularly scheduled facility tours and an introduction to chocolate making, there will be a variety of culinary programs and confectionery classes, a retail and gift shop, and a large meeting room for parties and business events. There will even be a garden featuring a live cocoa tree. If you’re like me, and are easily excited about all things chocolate, embrace the magic by learning about the growing of cocoa pods, the making of raw chocolate and finished chocolate products.
Peterbrooke sources the majority of its chocolate from growers in Africa, primarily the Ivory Coast, and is UTZ certified. The UTZ program looks after the growing regions for cocoa, coffee, tea, and hazelnuts, ensuring sustainable farming practices, good working conditions, better wages, respect for people and the planet, and finished products that buyers can trust and enjoy. It also works to support underlying issues that can affect the growers, including climate change, child labor and gender equality, and works in partnership with governments to strengthen the voice of smallholder farmers and other operators along the agricultural supply chain.
From a manufacturing perspective, the absence of automation in the facility is surprising. While there are machines used for mixing or maintaining the chocolate at perfect temperatures (an essential part of chocolate-making), the majority of the work is done lovingly, carefully and precisely by hand. Whether it is popping popcorn, pouring toffee, molding pralines, mixing gelato or baking cakes, the individuals are dedicated to each task; exercising tremendous care to ensure that every piece of deliciousness meets exacting specifications. While time consuming and painstaking, this is obviously part of the equation that has kept Peterbrooke relevant for so many years.
While the art of the chocolatier requires proper training and careful attention to detail, simplicity is at the heart of Peterbooke’s operations. According to Andy Stenson, vice president of marketing for Peterbrooke, “We like to keep everything as simple as possible. When the complexity of processing is kept simple, we can better control the quality, integrity and overall outcome of our products,” he says.
Along with expansion at the manufacturing level, Peterbrooke has enjoyed considerable franchise growth. With over 20 stores in operation, they continue to grow as neighborhood chocolate purveyors, making many of their hand-dipped chocolates on premise. Franchise owners undergo extensive training to learn the work of a chocolatier, with the expectation of making certain products in each store. Cultivating artisanship while embracing growth, Peterbrooke is a brand that strives to harness the balance between strong craft and good commerce. When the doors open to the Peterbrooke chocolate factory this year, we will be the first in line to celebrate what we hope is the first of many sweet new opportunities for the revitalization of Mixon Town.