Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Chocolate Architect - Building the Perfect Chocolate

Like so many stories, it started as a home business, making product as gifts for friends and family. Twelve years later, it's in a storefront with online sales and plans for expansion. The story of Becki De Koning Tyner and her business, The Chocolate Architect, is an example of a single homemade product growing into full fledged business.
Tyner pictured with her product
For years Tyner had been making a chocolate fudge based on her grandmother's recipe. Over time she had tweaked it until she had created something that was unique - not quite fudge, not quite a hard chocolate. "It's more like the inside of a truffle," says Tyner. Or like a firm ganache. Smooth and silky, she named it Chocolate Silk, which she eventually trademarked. 

Tyner used her chocolate as gifts that she gave to friends and family. She also gave it as holiday gifts to her clients and business associates while she worked in her career as an architect. Everyone commented that it was something unique, that they had never experienced elsewhere, and that she should develop into a business. 

It was after remarrying and taking time off from architecture to be with her new blended family that Tyner thought about turning her chocolate into a business. It turned out her son was in the same class as Shari Fitpatrick's, the founder of Shari's Berries. One day she just called her up, told her their sons were in the same class, and would she mind if she asked for an opinion and some advice. Fitpatrick assured her, she had something worth pursuing. So after some discussion with her husband, Tyner started creating a business named after her product and her profession, The Chocolate Architect.

The first seven years started in her home kitchen and then to a commercial kitchen. She had four flavors that she sold via a networking system. A friend or colleague would buy a gift and send it to a friend and soon that friend was buying it for their friends. Tyner also had sales via a very basic website. "Customers would have to print off an order form and fax it in," she said. "It wasn't too sophisticated back then."

In 2008 Tyner decided it was time to move into a brick n mortar. She'd had enough of renting commercial kitchens and needed her own space. She also had found that customers liked to see and taste the product while also being able to pick out the colors and packaging. 

cookie cutters filled with Chocolate Silk
Four flavors have grown to over 60, including a sugar free using stevia, a low sugar using blue agave syrup, and a vegan using a non dairy "butter". All of the flavors are gluten free unless they include a mix-in that has wheat. Tyner uses a Dutch chocolate as the base, but there are other chocolates and ingredients mixed in to give her chocolates their signature silky texture.  None of the Silks contain any preservatives, trans fats, waxes, or additives.

"We only keep about 20 out each season," Tyner said. "We have our standards that are out year round as well as seasonals." The Spring lineup is about to end and has Lemon Drop and Dark Lavender Silks. The Summer menu starts in June. 

I asked her about whether she was able to source some of her mix-ins (nuts, fruits) from local orchards. Tyner said it can be a bit problematic in that sometimes their product isn't "clean" enough, as in, a stray nutshell could be in them. Price has been another issue. "I would love to find some local producers who I could work with," Tyner said. "It would be great if the Farm to Fork movement means a creation of a network for even small businesses like mine."

Wineries have been her focus of late. "People are really enjoying a little bit of chocolate to go with their wine and we've started pairing flavors." A really popular combination has been the Hot Chili Mango with Zinfandels. "The Baby Bleu, made with a gorgonzola, goes really well with red wine," Tyner said. Many of the wineries do carry her Silks for sale and it can also be sometimes found at Whole Foods in Roseville.

The Chocolate Architect has other sweet treats as well, each containing a bit of Silk. The peanut butter cups are made with peanut butter ground on site. There is also peanut brittle, covered pretzels, and candy medallions. 

Asked for her future plans, Tyner says she's ready to move to a bigger space at another location with more traffic. "Location, location, location," she says. There's a location being considered, but she's not ready to announce it.

The Chocolate Architect is located at the corner of Kenneth & Madison in Fair Oaks. View her full line of gift items and flavors at

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