August 21, 2020 6 Comments
It is with a heavy heart we must inform you that the Intrigue Chocolate Coffeehouse, due to challenges presented by Covid-19, is now permanently closed. The official statement is released and negotiations with the landlord have concluded. Soon we’ll be moving out! Thank you to the whole Capitol Hill community for just over 3 incredible years, from dream to completion.
That said, let’s celebrate the incredible journey that was building and growing a dream come true! The massive undertaking changed the chocolate we produce, how we do business, and it changed us. What an honor and privilege it was to have the opportunity to make so many incredible memories, to lead such a great team who cared deeply about your café-and-chocolate experience, to work with dedicated and passionate vendors like Conduit Coffee and Little Kitchen, and to meet so many of you wonderful people.
The Coffeehouse Changed Our Chocolate
We opened the Coffeehouse to show what was possible with coffee and chocolate. The two are natural partners – from mochas and hot cocoas, to sipping chocolates, to chocolate pastries and banana bread with cacao nibs, to cacao and coffee combo cold brews and slushies, to truffles and craft chocolate to enjoy with your coffee – the two just enjoy playing together. Specifically, we wanted to demonstrate how much better a chocolate drink tastes when using actual cocoa powder and chocolate, rather than the usual high-sugar low-cacao syrup from a pump bottle.
We discovered that the average consumer thinks of chocolate as an occasional treat, coffee as a daily routine, and the combination of chocolate with coffee as something for people serious about neither ingredient. So, we quickly went to work on bridging the gap with the products we offered.
This led us to pursue becoming makers of craft chocolate.
Before this change, Intrigue Chocolate was considered a “confection” company. This means we made a confection with chocolate made by someone else. We used a base chocolate from Belgium for our truffle collections, and from that starting point developed over 400 flavors! They were all hand wrapped, hand stickered, and grouped into collection boxes that were hand folded and perishable.
This level of chocolate experience was not often what customers were looking for at a coffeehouse, however. The truffles, in a sense, were great as giftable items, but too precious to be paired with coffee in the minds of our customers. So, we set to work making our own chocolate from the bean that was less expensive, non-perishable, and did not require as much explanation.
We purchased a chocolate mill, as well as cracking and winnowing machines, learned to work directly with cacao beans, and set to work making smaller packets of chocolate with fruit inclusions, infusions, and multiple origins. Customers loved the colorful fruit, the flavors of the origin chocolate, and the lower price point. We came to think of it as “snacking chocolate”.
We are grateful to the coffeehouse for forcing us to adapt and learn, and ultimately serve our all our chocolate-loving customers better.
The Coffeehouse Changed Our Business
The infant version of Intrigue began in February, 2005, but we really got rolling in late 2006, working in a shared commercial kitchen and selling our confections at wineries on the weekends. In 2009 we signed the lease on a space we converted into a kitchen in Pioneer Square, during years the neighborhood was struggling. In 2015, we opened a ground-floor retail shop in Pioneer Square - just three blocks from the kitchen - to accommodate increasing foot traffic attracted to us via our glowing online reviews. We also expanded the kitchen to a space next door that acted as our warehouse and office. Then we started building our coffeehouse in 2017 and opened in 2018.
2020 has been a completely different kind of year. But, in so many ways the Coffeehouse was vital to our ability to navigate through all these challenges, one at a time. Even before COVID, we got the news that the building hosting our kitchen/office/warehouse would be gutted and converted to waterfront offices. We are grateful for the flexibility the coffeehouse provided as we pivoted in January. But now, as the challenge of COVID persists, we must close the Coffeehouse, too. Intrigue had grown to 14 team members in addition to owners Karl and Aaron. Intrigue is now just Aaron and Karl again, with a website, one retail location in Pioneer Square, and a cookbook full of chocolate recipes.
The Coffeehouse Changed Us
My Dad likes to ride motorcycles. At some point on the journey of his hobby, he twice decided to compete in the Iron Butt Rally, a long-distance riding competition. Competitors ride tens of thousands of miles over the course of two weeks, trying to maximize distance at the expense of sleep. Although he did quite well in both events (and took a strict stance on safety), he had a difficult time sharing the experience with friends and family. The first question everyone asked him was, “why would you bother doing such a thing in the first place?!” Aaron and I find ourselves facing the same question now about opening a café and being small business owners.
The answer my Dad gave then was, “Because I wanted a challenge, and to learn about myself.”
Although my Dad’s competition caused him a great deal of physical discomfort, he was beaming with pride at the end of both runs. He told us stories of riding through heavy rains as he tried to avoid hurricane Katrina which was south of him as he crossed the mid-states and north of him as he crossed back west through Canada. He met strangers who recognized the rider markers on his bike and the race he was competing in, and honked horns or cheered him on at gas stations. He told us stories of sleeping next to his bike on the side of the road. He told us stories of natural beauty he saw along the way.
In a similar fashion, what we experienced in the 3 years of dreaming, building, and operating the coffeehouse makes for a lifetime of stories. Although there are too many to tell here, we would like to thank the community for the following:
Thank you Capitol Hill for the opportunity to serve your community!
- Aaron & Karl, Intrigue Chocolate Co.