In the next five days, who knows what could happen? But at Fine & Raw’s “light industrial” factory in Bushwick, founder and CEO Daniel Sklaar knows what’s next: he and his team of 15 will bring one batch of chocolate from raw cacao beans to bars, with no shortcuts.
Fine & Raw chocolates began in a Williamsburg loft in 2007 after Sklaar left the finance world and got into the raw food movement. He grew up in South Africa and chose to settle in New York after a year of backpacking in Asia, in part because of a photo of a Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich.
In 2006, the raw food movement was pastrami free and very focused on vegetables. Then, “something interesting happened with the raw food industry, which is not very well known for its culinary delights: [a raw version of] chocolate hit the scene. it was a community of people who only ate carrots and lettuce and all of a sudden, here’s chocolate. It was like Christmas pandemonium,” said Sklaar.
Sklaar was unemployed, kind of broke, and cooking a lot. He started making raw chocolate in his kitchen, making sure the cacao nibs never rose above a certain temperature, and using a blender and a few bowls. He had friends who would bring back beans from trips to Ecuador and he left out a tip jar in his artist filled apartment. He would wake up to find missing chocolate and a jar full of money—thanks to the friends and roommates who passed through the very social space.
Details of the business came together naturally. The name was chosen from a list Sklaar kept in a email draft to himself. The first label was illustrated by a friend staying on his couch after a breakup. Friends and family thought he was a little crazy, “starting a raw chocolate company in 2007, but everyone who tried [the chocolate] showed unwavering support.” His first sale was a box of truffles in December 2007, sold to a friend for $2.50. Wholesale accounts followed and he expanded the business to a 2,300-square-foot factory on Siegel Street in 2012.
It smells toasty inside the factory, where cacao beans arrive directly from farmers in Ghana and Ecuador. Fine & Raw works with a nonprofit to ensure organic farming practices and support social programs on these farms. First, the beans are inspected by hand, then roasted. Fine & Raw makes both raw and roasted varieties. The smoothing and milling process takes four days of continuous aerating in metal cyliders. It’s at this stage that the flavors and sweeteners are added. Coconut sugar is the main sweetener and the flavors are wide-ranging, from sea salt to cashew butter to raspberry (one of Sklaar’s favorites).
The bars are poured into molds or enrobed in the case of the truffles, and then cooled. Then they will be hand wrapped in gold foil with illustrated labels created by local artists. This process is “light industrial” and a marked contrast to places like Hershey’s, which can make five tons of chocolate in an hour by pulverizing the beans into a smoothness. Fine & Raw takes it slow.
Many artisan chocolates are super dark and bitter—Fine & Raw has a 70 percent cacao that ventures there. But they also offer vegan milk chocolates, in which nut or coconut butters add a creamier texture to the bars. The best selling line is the “chubby,” small bars with creamy centers. Sklaar is excited about the new cashew butter flavor and improving their own version of Nutella, which is already in very good shape.
Fine & Raw’s presence in Bushwick will soon expand, with a larger factory deeper in Bushwick that will have more space for events. A CBD line of chocolates is in development. Chocolate and CBD both work on the endocannabinoid system and “really enhance each other,” says Sklaar. Their current location also has a hot chocolate bar and lots of samples. Bars retail between $5 and $10, plus there are special gift sets to taste all the bars and truffles.
Adding more chocolate to your life is only a good thing, according to Sklaar, who shares that “chocolate is a superfood, it’s got 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries and it’s one of the highest sources of magnesium.” Plus, it’s pleasurable—at Fine & Raw, they recently redesigned the bars to make them thinner, which means faster melting and “a greater explosion of flavors.” Sklaar tells of a French woman who is one of the longest-lived people, “Her secret is every day, chocolate, a cigarette, and a glass of wine. I skip the cigarette and am a moderate drinker, but otherwise…”
288 Seigel Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206(718) 366-3633 HOURSMon-Fri: 11-7Sat: 12-7
Cover photo courtesy of Abigail Koffler