"It's not a super romantic story." Nick Dale was speaking about his foray into chocolate making sitting in the brightly lit and delicious smelling Condor Chocolates shop. He had just sold a few bars to a woman who saw us chatting inside the shop and knocked persistently on the door despite the "closed" sign being up, which speaks to his calm and amicable demeanor.
"Peter had visited Ecuador and we started talking one day after he returned - sometime in 2011 or '12 - about how culturally important cocoa beans are in Equador." Nick said Equadorians think of cocoa beans much like Georgians think of peaches. But for some reason, when his brother, Peter Dale, (owner of beloved local restaurant The National as well as Condor Chocolates) went looking for chocolate as gifts to return home with from Equador, there was a lack of high quality products. So Peter and Nick, whose mother was born in Equador, discussed the acquisition of ingredients and who would run the shop. Nick, who at the time worked in the corporate world, volunteered himself and started cooking chocolate bars out of his kitchen using everyday household items - Pyrex pans to roast the beans, a meat tenderizer to crush & grind the cocoa nibs, and his own oven to heat the chocolate to make bars. He'd then purchase high-end bars and have friends come over & taste the bars against each other with generally great results.
The self-taught chocolate maker & Athens native spoke highly of the labor practices of the cocoa bean farmers he works with and mentioned that Condor has visited every farm that the store works with except for one. The store is also known for sourcing local artists (and even their own employees) for its chocolate bar wrappers, as well as it's company's philanthropy - Condor creates the Koko Buni chocolate bar, which benefits our local non-profit initiative Get Comfortable, as well as the American Red Cross Bar (a 67% dark milk chocolate bar with blueberries) which benefits the American Red Cross.
"The store & sourcing the beans from Equador is meant to be an homage to our mother," Nick continues. Condor Chocolates, which opened up in December of 2014, is embarking on some changes in the next couple of months that will enable them to double their capacity. They're also able to start doing some more experimentation, such as aging dark chocolate. "Chocolate by nature is acidic." Nick says. "When you are able to age it, especially dark chocolate, it balances those sharp peaks and can add complexity." He said with their new production facility which opened last summer, he's able to age 400-500 lbs of dark chocolate for a couple of months and is excited about delving deeper into that process. He also mentioned some new and exciting bars and treats due out soon, including a decadent sounding "Honey Comb Candy".
Romantic or not, we are so thrilled this the gem of a company was able to open right here in Athens, GA, & fortunate for the opportunity to collaborate with the folks there regularly. Be sure to stop by the tour to try Condor - our chocolate stout & tribute to Condor Chocolates.
Cheers and stay curious!