ST. ANDREWS – A couple and their cat are on a mission to bring their craft chocolate business to the next level, and they’ve chosen St. Andrews as the place to do it.
Mark McGuire and Victoria Myers are the owners of McGuire Chocolate, a company the specializes in single-origin chocolate made with only three ingredients. Their chocolate is made with fermented cacao grown by small farmers/profit sharing co-ops, organic cane sugar and cocoa butter. The couple and their cat Hank moved from Calgary to St. Andrews this past summer, where they set up their factory and storefront on 174 Water Street.
The company got its start three years ago when McGuire was traveling in Nicaragua where he first learned how to make chocolate from fresh cacao. When he came back home to Calgary, the passion began to grow.
“It was time for me to come back to Canada so I bought a suitcase so I could stuff it with cacao and come home,” says McGuire. “I was doing a little bit of research. I thought, ‘I’m going to work for a chocolate maker and learn the industry.’ When I started to research I realized that chocolate making was a fairly rare thing.”
At the time, McGuire says there were only around 200 chocolate makers in the world. The rest are what are called “chocolatiers,” who buy the finished product from the chocolate makers to make their own candies, truffles and other products from it. But that number started to grow once single-origin chocolate started being produced in the late 1990s. Now he estimates there are around 400 to 500 chocolate makers.
“From that, we have a couple of makers spring up in the early 21st century and this whole craft chocolate scene just boomed from there. It almost mirrors craft beer and even before that, coffee,” says McGuire. “Beer just used the big makers and now there are craft breweries everywhere. The same thing is happening with chocolate.”
Not long after his return to Calgary, McGuire met his fiance Myers, who then joined him in his chocolate business. They received proper accreditations, took courses, learned from others in the industry and started making and selling their single-origin chocolate bars.
“We just started to learn and to grow together. It’s really just accelerated from there. We got packaging together and a brand,” says McGuire. “We launch the business and started selling chocolate to people. It really caught on.”
For a while, McGuire Chocolate was run out of a commercial kitchen in Calgary. But soon they realized they need to go to another step up.
“We started making chocolate as fast as we could make it. It takes a long time to make chocolate. One batch can take a week-and-a-half if you’re really diligent…It’s a lot of processes,” he says. “There’s a lot that goes into it, but at the end of the day, you get a very simple product. It’s just quality chocolate.”
They chose St. Andrews for the new McGuire Chocolate HQ for several reasons. One being that McGuire spent part of his childhood in nearby Saint John. The others are more practical, including low real estate prices and proximity to the United States border.
“We import our cacao beans and there are only a few warehouses in North America that are certified to be able to house cacao because it is a very sensitive product and they are both in the United States,” says McGuire. “When we imported our cacao in Calgary, we’d have to pay for a customs broker. That would add on to your material costs. Being close to the U.S. border and having things shipped to Maine and broker them ourselves coming across saves us a lot of material costs.”
At 174 Water Street, the storefront and factory are located on the ground floor, while McGuire and Myers live upstairs. The storefront opened this past June and along with their chocolate, also sells ice cream, freshly baked bread and coffee.
“We’re going to be open all-year-round,” says Mark. “We just got our espresso machine, so we will be doing coffees and things in the shop and maintaining that and trying to get a real established local hold on St. Andrews so we can have that sustainable revenue all year round.”
Priced at around $10 a bar, McGuire Chocolate products are geared toward the more fair-trade conscious consumer and chocolate aficionados. Most of their bars are named after the farms where the cacao comes from.
“It’s all about finding the consumers that value simple ingredients,” says McGuire. “People who check the labels on the back and make sure that you’re not eating a bunch of weird oils, syrups, and sweeteners. We are purists from an ingredients standpoint.”
But McGuire Chocolate also has a line marketed to those who just want a tasty chocolate bar. The Hank Series is named after their cat Hank, who also serves as the company’s CEO (Cat Executive Officer).
“We know that what’s important to us isn’t important to everybody, so we wanted to take a different spin and try to just make our bars just stand out on the shelf,” says McGuire. “While we have a large selection of simple chocolates … we also have a line of inclusion bars because people want things in their chocolate, they just do.”
The Hank Series includes a sea salt bar (Buccaneer Hank), a peanut bar (Peanut Hank), a simple milk chocolate bar (Big Booty Hank) and a spicey bar (Senor Hankito). Each of the labels features Hank dressed in character and was hand-drawn by a hired artist. And yes, they actually dressed Hank up in little costumes to model.
“What I did was map out different fictional characters throughout history who played a role in bringing chocolate to the main stage and I have those characters played by our cat Hank,” says McGuire.
“The artwork is a piece of it. You buy the bar, but you’re also buying pencil sketches.”
Now that they’re established in their new home, McGuire Chocolate will be focusing on expanding retail distribution over the next year. Right now, they are carried at shops in Calgary, Ontario and Newfoundland.
The Hank series is also carried in a cat cafe in Oregon. McGuire says the company is working with Opportunities New Brunswick and other organizations that offer programs to help small businesses export.
“Right now the growth strategy is to pick up more Canadian stores,” he says. “And then into 2020 and beyond we want to start going down into New England and getting some stores on board there … and just see where we can take it.”