Blog

  • Tastings, Construction Update, and Cha-Cha-Changes

    Hello, Intrigue Chocolate fans! There is so much happening behind the scenes. We are starting to place big orders and finalize plans, and the whole team is working hard to make sure we open a coffeehouse that will actually be enjoyed by you, the people we are building it for!

    (BTW, you can see more beautiful images our team is producing, like the one above, by going to our Intrigue's Instagram.)

     

    Happening at the Pioneer Square Tasting Bar

    Aaron is excited to share with you his exploration of Molasses this January. Often forgotten in modern cuisine, molasses is associated with the flavor of old-fashioned candies and baked goods which are often rich, earthy, and mildly sweet. It’s the perfect winter post-holiday flavor because it reminds us of warm and cozy places.

    There are two truffles right now with molasses in the tasting room. Here's what Aaron has to say about them:

    Molasses & Sea Salt Truffle – "My mother sometimes made a special winter treat for the family: warm molasses milk. Perfect for a bedtime snack, it’s like being wrapped in one of grandma’s handmade quilts."

    Ginger & Molasses Truffle – "If I was allowed to say only one thing about this truffle, it’d have to be “gingerbread cookie dough”. What else do you need? :D"

    (You can order some from our online chocolate shop.)

     

    Construction Status Update

    Shop construction is underway! The old bars have been demolished, the floors are sanded and ready to be sealed.

    Even the bench along the south wall was removed, which completely changed the feeling of the room!

    Where large sections of older walls came down to give us an extra three feet along the north wall, new drywall is being install.

    We cut out the section of shelving that was blocking the window. We’ll put in new shelves and treat the cabinet in walnut. All this extra light will make it feel more open in the space, and be a perfect spot for lot of plants and greenery.

    The kitchen floor has a new surface to make it waterproof and food prep ready.

    There is some work to be done to relocate electrical switches and finish ceiling repair.

    Phew!

    One of the biggest projects on the plate was to define the equipment we needed, down to the exact model, for health permitting and inspection scheduling. We finished that last week, and will be ordering everything shortly so it arrives in time to be installed.

    The most exciting part of that equipment ordering process: The espresso machine, and it's BEAUTIFUL.

    This is the Mavam brand of machine, where most of the machine will be below counter. This was an important design consideration for us because now the barista can engage with the customer while preparing the cup of coffee, and the customer can see the whole process.

     

    How Intrigue is Changing

    Our team has grown in advance of opening our new shop, partly to help with the holiday season, and partly to get people trained and excited before stepping into a new concept. It also means we’ve added a whole new set of skills to the team! Here are some of the major changes to how we conceptualize our brand with the addition of the coffeehouse:

    The Pioneer Square “Shop” will now be called the “Tasting Bar”.  This has happened naturally on the team as we talk about two different locations, and “Tasting Bar” describes better the service you can expect to have there. It is a place to discover new flavors, have an experience, and pick up a gift. It is where we will focus on the craft of chocolate making, share our knowledge about spices, and demonstrate the ways we enjoy using the products we sell. It will be a place to show off Aaron’s artistry with chocolate - the foundation of our business - and to learn something new together.

    We’ve started defining the “Coffeehouse” on Capitol Hill as a place for community and conversation. Here you can meet with friends and have a shared experience over coffee and chocolate. Try something new the team has worked up, like a specialty tea or a small-batch origin sipping chocolate. We want to provide a forum for all types of gathering, whether it be a business meeting, a date, or a place for individuals to hang out and feel welcome.

    In our research, it’s nearly always the staff who set the tone for the customer experience of the location. Our team has started embracing this. How do we provide consistently excellent service every day? How do we set each other up so we enjoy working as a team, because the customer feels that, too. It’s become our mission to provide the most consistent and positive experience for our customers as possible, from quality ingredients to staff working relationships.

    And last but not least, we want to showcase Aaron’s artistry in a more direct way. We’ve always assumed that people understood that this is an “artisianal” product, but the more we talk about Aaron’s craft, the better our product is understood. We want people to know that the chocolate truffles Aaron crafts are a work of art. They are meant to be enjoyed slowly, and pondered. We are not the sweetest caramel company, or the meltiest milk chocolate company. We are a company that explores the world of flavor through chocolate and coffee, and we want to share that with you! Aaron will be your guide, and a joyful one at that.

    See you soon!

  • Chocolate Bars & Progress on the New Shop

    Chocolate bars are in the shop! Last month, with the help of a Kickstarter Project that ran in October, we were able to purchase the large initial packaging run for our new line of 6 flavored chocolate bars. We are so excited to bring them to market and share them with you.

    I’ve just put them onto our online shopping cart if you would like to order some for the holidays. Supplies limited!

    We debuted the new bars at the NW Chocolate Festival, but it was a nail biter and down to the wire to get everything in place to do so. First the chocolate making process took a while longer than expected (we missed the judging window by a day), and then the packaging that was supposed to arrive on a Tuesday arrived on Friday at 6pm the –night before- the festival. We spent the evening setting up our booth at the show, and then had to call in friends to put in a late night at the kitchen folding and assembling. But we did it!

     The bars were a big success at the festival and every flavor had it’s own group of fans. By a slim margin, the more popular two bars were the Rosemary, Honey, Sea Salt, and the Guajillo Chili, Hibiscus, Cinnamon, and Vanilla. Let us know which ones you like best.

    Since the festival our challenge has been production. We are just selling them so quickly! Hence why we waiting to put them up online until now. You can now find our chocolate bars at the following locations around Seattle:

    Sugarpill on Capitol Hill

    Anchorhead Coffee in Seattle and the one in Issaquah

    World Spice Merchants at Pike Place Market

     

    Shop Update

    Finalizing lease & bank approvals: DONE

    Defining work scope and negotiating contractor bids: DONE

    Demo: IN PROGRESS

    Floors: IN PROGRESS

    Wall repair and paint: PENDING

    Install casework, furniture, shelving, and equipment: PENDING

    Inspections: PENDING

    Grand opening date: Early February Target

     

    What’s Happening

    We’ve demo’d out the existing bar and cut away the drywall to give us another 3 feet of room on the north end. As Sarah said sadly, “The ‘Harry Potter Closet’ is gone now.”

    Sarah and Phil helped to put this little "behind the scenes" together before we started construction.

    We knew that our perception of the space would change once there was more room to move around in there, but we were still surprised how much the space changed. Suddenly there was more exposed concrete (which looks awesome!), and the shape of the bar we’d planned didn’t make sense anymore. We’ve made some updates, planned out what paint colors to put where, and are moving forward.

    The construction crew was in the shop this week sanding the concrete floors to remove the patchy black paint. The sanding should help take the concrete back to a more natural state, and from there we’ll give it a glossy seal finish to protect it, make it water proof, and give the concrete visual depth. The concrete will be a nice neutral tone for all the wood, stainless steel, and plant life.

    What’s Next

    We are finalizing our needed-equipment list this week, and then we’ll wrap up our final layout and concept drafts. We can’t wait to share those with you! The last 5-6 weeks have all been planning and logistics, while at the same time preparing for the holiday rush and training new team members to get through it. It’s stressful work and not pretty, but necessary. We have a really strong crew right now, both in the kitchen and the retail store, and working on the build out of the new café. Exciting things are coming.

    We’ve been saying that late January is the target opening date, but now we are thinking the first week of February and just in time for Valentine’s Day. Thank you again for following along, and stay tuned for a more visual update with drawing and plans next time!

  • We've Signed the Lease, Intrigue Chocolate and Coffeehouse Coming to Capitol Hill!

    Exciting news, we’ve signed the lease for shop number 2! It’s official! We found a funky/cool store in the cultural hot spot neighborhood of Capitol Hill, and we'll be building a "chocolate and coffeehouse". (Corner location above.)

    A couple months ago we asked for your help choosing a neighborhood to focus our search. Thank you for all the feedback! We cast a wide net, looking for a very specific set of criteria, considered each suggestion in depth (especially Columbia City, so close!), and found what we believe is the ideal spot at the right time.

    Before we get into the new shop, please consider participating in our Kickstarter project that ends in about a week. Your participation will help us buy the large quantities of packaging required by print shops, and you get an equal value of chocolate for your pledge. Thank you in advance!

    Ok, on to the new store.

    Intrigue Chocolate & Coffeehouse

    Imagine walking through the front doors of our new chocolate and coffeehouse and being greeted by the delicious smell fresh coffee, warm quick breads, and cacao beans in the mill. Imagine ordering a cup of coffee from a knowledgeable and friendly barista that suggests you try this origin chocolate from Ghana after you take your first sip, so you can experience the chocolatey and plum notes of the coffee without distraction. Imagine sitting comfortably in a tall window with your cozy mug and small chocolate next to a warm slice of banana bread, enjoying the grey Seattle light and soft rain on the skyline.

    Here's a few photos of the space under construction to give you a sense of the bones:

    This will be a new concept space for us. We’ve always wanted to create a comfortable environment for our customers to spend time and interact with the staff and each other with fine food and drink as the backdrop. Now we can provide such a space.

    Full coffee service is a relatively new endeavor for us, so we are going to partner with a local coffee roaster Conduit Coffee. They have the specialty knowledge we need to do coffee correctly, and in exchange we’ll work and train on their equipment and serve their award winning roasted beans. (More on Conduit in another section.)

    Chocolate will be the extra detail that we hope puts the experience over the top. We want to provide the best chocolate beverage experience available, from hot cocoas, to mochas, to sipping chocolate, even to serving a small piece of chocolate with each cup of coffee. Chocolate is a simple luxury; we hope to make it an enjoyable and healthy part of your daily routine.

    It’s important to us that the space be inviting and friendly. We want you to spend time there, and we want to get it right. Be ready for us to ask you over and over again, “what makes a space comfortable for you?” and if you are a resident, “what do you look for on Capitol Hill”.

    Physical Location

    YES, THERE IS PARKING. The building has a few spots available for customers in their reasonably priced underground lot. During the day there is plenty of parking right out front, which fills up as people get off of work. Being able to drive to Intrigue was a common request for this second location, and now you can!

    The new shop is on the busy street of Madison and the surprisingly small and charming 15th Avenue. The high ceilings and large glass windows are ideal for capturing as much light as possible and making the space feel generous.
    It’s larger than we initially thought we’d pursue. Altogether it’s about 1900 sq ft (we were looking for around 1200 sq ft for this concept), but the way it’s laid out makes it ideal for what we want to accomplish. In addition to a café space, there is a kitchen in the back to hold the scullery and give us a few extra tables for chocolate production. It will also act as an emergency backup kitchen in case - heaven forbid - anything were to happen to our current kitchen.

    Previously the space was setup as a juice bar called “Healo”. They served delicious smoothies and organic foods, but decided to move their business primarily online focusing on health supplements. That’s great news for us because the space has been largely built out already, from plumbing to electrical to HVAC and ADA accessibility. We’ll be tackling the fixtures, paint, and installations that support our retail style, but we will not have to build out infrastructure as extensively as we did for Pioneer Square even though this is a bigger space by almost five times.

    Here's how it looked when Healeo was in full operation:



    Partners

    We’ll be working with Conduit Coffee to build and train the coffee service portion. Coffee is competitive in this city, and we want to make sure we are serving a cup of coffee that we love (because then we’ll want to share it with you, and at least some of you will agree it’s awesome… as in, have-to-have-one-every-day kind of awesome).

    We’ve carried Conduit Coffee in our shop for almost 5 years, so many of you are already familiar with the brand. If you aren’t familiar, then suffice to say Conduit has won several awards recently, locally and nationally.

    We aren’t sure yet who will be providing the pastries, but we’ll want to work with someone local and reputable. Any suggestions?

    Capitol Hill

    The neighborhood of Capitol Hill is in the middle of a massive culture shift due to the increasing density and change in demographics brought on by the expansion of our tech industry. We want to be respectful of Capitol Hill’s past by paying homage to the styles, free spiritedness, and colorful expressions found there. We also want to be a new contribution to the cultural fabric of the neighborhood by offering up a different kind of art. We are embracing the fact that people need to gather somewhere, and people tend to gather where they are invited to be. So, all are invited.

    Timeline

    We will probably not be open until January at the earliest. But we do hope to have some chocolate pop-up in the store for the December holiday season. We’ll keep you posted along the way! Thank you for all your support!

  • Designing Our New Chocolate Bars

    We are going to launch chocolate bars this year, and Kickstarter made it possible. Thank you to those that have backed us and helped exceed our initial goal!

    The rest of this blog post will be about the design of the bars, but if you’d like to know more about the story of their conception check out the Kickstarter project below. There is still time to participate in the Kickstarter effort and be among the first to receive the bars. You can even take advantage of a few discounted options available to early backers.


    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/intriguechocolateco/pacific-northwest-inspired-chocolate-bars

    Visual Design

    Let’s talk first about the front of the package, which is the showpiece and where most of the design research was done. When you look at a chocolate shelf these days, it can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t familiar with all the brands! How do you know which one you’ll like?

    We have a much smaller selection of chocolate bars in our shop which we curate based on what we like and what we are excited to share with customers. We think customers appreciate this approach, even just subconsciously. When a customer asks us to help them choose, we have a different reason to recommend each one and the enthusiasm just comes naturally. From customer questions, however, we found a few things to be true:

    Customers do not usually care about the company logo. This is the most common design choice of most chocolate bar companies (and for very important reasons like targeting customers already familiar with the brand or to compete in online shopping catalogues, etc). For our purposes and in our shop, we determined the logo was not how the customer made a choice of what to buy from the shelf and therefore decided to understate it on the cover.

    Color is king. We’ve been wrestling with this concept for years because we really didn’t want to believe the color had so much influence on us a species in food decision making process, but it’s a fact. Packages with the same background color are usually visually scanned as being the same item without variation, whereas differing colors prompt the brain to take a closer look. Packages with multiple colors have a bonus effect of the customer deciding, “you know, why don’t I get one of each!”  It’s a strange phenomenon but one we experience over and over. So for our bar designs, color is king.

    Picture graphics are beautiful, but not always meaningful. “A picture speaks a thousand words” is the expression, but are all one thousand of those words what you want to say? A customer that wants to enjoy a chocolate bar may not care so much about what a cacao pod looks like just like a bottle of wine doesn’t necessarily need to remind the customer that it was made from grapes. We embraced the idea that less visual information was a courtesy to the customer, and our hope is that the negative space is more attractive.

    Is the chocolate sweet or bitter? Customers who've had an unpleasant experience with dark chocolate tend to shy away from the word “dark” or the word “milk” on the box. Another customer may be specifically looking for the 60%, 70%, or 80%. While percentage is not fool-proof predictor of flavor, it does need to be stated.

    Flavor seals the deal. If a package catches a customer’s eye, he or she is then tasked with making a decision which usually comes down to flavor. Our flavors are pretty wild and difficult to imagine, so we needed to demonstrate our confidence in them, that yes these are actually delicious chocolate bars, we are proud, and you will love them. Our target customer is willing to try something new and then share it with friends.

    Box Design

    We have made a significant change in our packaging designs by moving from an envelope to a box. Because the bars are 100g (roughly 3oz, which is 2x-3x the size of some dark chocolate bars you see in the stores today), the edges were rather thick. For an envelope to expand enough to handle this width the size of the overall packaging started to look like an 8.5”x 11” sheet of paper! Way too big.

    Here’s how the new overall packaging design looks. (Note that print guidelines are included, so the yellow text / logo, the blue lines and pink text is markup, not final coloring.)

    Creative Request

    This new box gives more area for text on the inside of the box. In the spirit of “every flavor tells a story”, we’d like to include a short inspirational message that varies with each flavor. Do we have any creatives out there that have ideas? Post them in the comments below!

    Thanks, chocolate lovers! Again, the Kickstarter is still open, so be sure to head that way if you are eager to try these new chocolate bars and help us get them launched.

  • Suggested Neighborhoods for 2nd Location

    Thank you for all the suggestions! Keep them coming! It builds confidence to see how people’s ideas stack up.

    We tend to looks at historic areas because they are smaller spaces with charm, and usually good walking traffic because of it. We are also looking for something within a reasonable distance to our Pioneer Square kitchen. Let’s whittle down the list to hone in on what is most popular and best fit:

    First Pass: Logistically Difficult

    The further the store is away from the home base kitchen and admin office, the more difficult it will be to maintain a good customer experience. Staff will be harder to train and product will be harder to keep stocked up. These are fun locations; perhaps further down the road… So we’ll remove the following suggestions from the list for these reasons:

    • Atlanta
    • Birmingham, AL
    • Chehalis
    • Chicago
    • Duluth
    • Ellensburg
    • Portsmouth, NH
    • Rome, Italy
    • Silverdale
    • Spokane
    • Norwalk, CT

    Second Pass: Similar Areas

    Let’s group suggestions into categories to see if there are clear standouts. We have grouped suggestions into 3 buckets:

    • East Side (with parking)
    • Bellevue
    • Bothell
    • Kirkland
    • Redmond
    • Snohomish
    • Woodinville
    • Seattle Area
    • Ballard
    • Belltown
    • Edmonds
    • Fremont
    • Greenwood
    • Georgetown
    • Kent Station
    • Lake City
    • Lake Forest Park
    • Mill Creek
    • Queen Anne
    • University Village
    • Wallingford
    • West Seattle
    • White Center
    • Columbia City
    • New Cities
    • Tacoma
    • Puyallup
    • Everett

    It is so difficult to choose, but the focus and attention must be concentrated in some fashion. Here are our top contenders after soliciting everyone’s feedback.

    Eastside: Woodinville

    We admit to a lack of knowledge about neighborhoods and cities east of Lake Washington, however Woodinville is the one exception. For the first 7 years of the business we spent most of our time out at Woodinville wineries (Silver Lake first, then Woodhouse, then Davenport) pairing chocolate with wine. There is a lot of complimentary appeal between chocolate and wine. So for Eastside considerations, it makes sense to focus our attention on Woodinville. Per your feedback, though, it should definitely come with ample parking!

    Seattle Area: Belltown, West Seattle, Columbia City

    Belltown is near Pike Place Market, which is an obvious appeal. There is year round tourism, an active business and residential community, and some location prestige. However, it comes with quite a bit of competition. There are already 5 chocolate shops present in or around the market. Rent here is high, but not unreasonable.

    West Seattle has the junction, which is always hopping. It’s a commercial area that seems to be served well by the residents that live in West Seattle, with a blend of walking traffic supported by fairly easy parking.

    Columbia City is a new consideration for us. The area has changed so much in the past few years. There is a nice historic strip along Rainer that looks appealing with some smaller retail options available. I think this area will require some further research.

    Bordering Cities: Tacoma
    There are some beautiful historic areas in Tacoma, and the rent is very reasonable. We haven’t built up a lot of recognition in Tacoma, so it will be important for us to find a smaller space with good “walkability” and charm near commercial districts. That appears most likely along Pacific Ave and Commerce Street, with some historic areas along 6th Avenue.

    Thank you for all the suggestions! I’ll follow up with some comparisons so you can see what is going into our consideration process. Please chime in if you see something awesome.

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