BEND — Bend chocolate maker Lidia Vazquez has a passion for chocolate, but not just any chocolate. Venezuelan chocolate — from a single-bean origin, not blended with beans from around the world.
From Venezuelan and organic to old-fashioned and artisanal chocolates, Central Oregon connoisseurs can select from treats made by five different chocolate makers operating in Bend.
"I would say five in Bend is a huge number," Bette Fraser, chef and owner of The Well Traveled Fork in Bend, wrote in an email.
Across Oregon, the business of chocolate grew 2001 to 2011, according to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Oregon went from 19 chocolate makers in 2001 to 32 in 2011, and the state's chocolate festival recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in Ashland.
The industry expects to see moderate growth in the next four years, according to a study from Dublin-based Research and Markets.
"The average consumer has been exposed to fine chocolate for the past few decades and (is) continually demanding more," Fraser wrote. "Gone are the days of just milk chocolate, a la Hershey's."
Fraser continued, "Even milk chocolate has gone gourmet, as have s'mores and hot chocolate."
In Bend, each chocolate maker specializes in something different.
For Chocolate Element, a restaurant on Northwest Wall Street and Bend's newest chocolate maker, it's about the experience of customers savoring chocolate with a glass of wine, not grabbing a box of chocolate to go.
For Tricia Pollard, owner of Tricia's True Confections, her focus is creating organic chocolate.
"I think everyone has their own niche," Pollard said. "I think Goody's has their Goody's crowd that have always been coming. And they have everything else to offer with it, too . so it's like an experience, an old-fashioned soda shop. And then there's Pegasus Chocolate, and their chocolate is good, and they're old-school."
Karolina Lavagnio, Oregon Chocolate Festival organizer and sales and marketing director for the Ashland Springs Hotel, has seen a number of new chocolate companies come and go in the last three years.
"Because of the down economy, many people are losing jobs. The idea of starting your own business is very tempting," she said. "People try to come up with a concept, and chocolate seems like a good plan. But if they don't have the right product, guidance, opportunities, luck — they don't survive."
Lavagnio said there's a huge trend to create and eat raw chocolate.
"Five years ago, we didn't have a single raw chocolatier. Right now it's about half of the chocolatiers that come."
Jem Raw Organics, formally Jem Raw Chocolates, was on the festival's list of participants, but co-owner and CEO Jennifer Moore said the Bend company stopped making chocolate in April to focus on sprouted raw organic nut butters.
Demand was growing, but boosting production would have been too labor intensive and costly because of the price of equipment, she said.
"We loved our chocolates, and we loved making them; we just couldn't make a living because it is so labor intensive," Moore said.
Shipping raw chocolate across the country was also difficult because it didn't contain any preservatives and would melt easily, she said.
Moore said consumers most enjoyed the center of Jem's chocolates, which was made from the nut butter the company now sells in jars.
In addition, she said, there's a lot less competition in the nut butter category, allowing the company to better spread its message of healthy indulgence.
Goody's Candy Store Inc. can boast of being Bend's oldest existing chocolatier.
"We've been making it since 1984 in Sunriver," said co-owner Dane Danforth.
Goody's began as a small candy store in Sunriver and opened a downtown Bend location in 1989. Today, the company owns and operates four retail stores, four franchises and its factory on Southeast Division Street, where it makes chocolates, along with fudge, caramel corn, toffee, peanut brittle and ice cream. It employs between 50 and 100 people in total, depending on the season, and has four full-time chocolatiers in its factory.
Chocolate sales vary, depending on the store and time of year, Danforth said.
"Each of our stores is pretty unique," he said. "Our east-side store is probably 50 percent chocolate sales, as where our downtown store is not as much. We do more ice cream down there."
Goody's makes about 500 pounds of chocolate, on average, per week, but ramps up to around 700 pounds during the holiday season. In addition to its own stores, Goody's supplies chocolate to other stores in Oregon and Washington.
While more chocolate manufacturers have popped up over the years, Danforth welcomes the competition.
"You end up having competition no matter what industry you are in," he said, pointing to the region's booming craft beer market. "How many is too many? I don't know."
Susan Moini, co-owner of Pegasus Gourmet Chocolates in the Wagner Mall on Northeast Third Street, said she's not competing with the other chocolatiers in the area.
"How many are in town makes no difference. It doesn't matter," she said, "They're not hurting me and I'm not hurting them because my location is different."
The company was originally established on the Oregon Coast. Moini and her husband, Kaz, bought and operated the business before moving it to Bend 10 years ago.
When they purchased the company, Pegasus offered seven different flavors of chocolate. Today, the store makes more than 80 different truffles, along with themed chocolate bars, caramel corn and fudge.
On average, Pegasus produces 1,000 pieces of chocolate each day on four machines.
Kaz Moini is the chocolatier, and Susan Moini said she does the rest, from packaging and selling to cleaning the store.
"Everything you see here is wrapped by my hand," she said pointing to the case filled with decorative boxes of chocolates.
Because her shop is off the beaten path, she said, she doesn't attract tourists and depends on local customers to spread the word about her chocolate.
Vazquez, who is trying to build her business, Lidia's Chocolates, only sells her Venezuelan chocolate online.
She started the company about four years ago and makes about 5 pounds of chocolate a week out of the certified kitchen in her Bend home. Using only Venezuelan chocolate gives her desserts a different taste, she said.
In addition to operating Lidia's Chocolates, she works as a certified nursing assistant at St. Charles, but she hopes to make chocolates full time.
"In the future, I would love to have a small retail store, but I know that I need to work a lot," she said.
Pollard, who started making organic, fair-trade chocolates as Christmas gifts about 17 years ago, operates Tricia's True Confections out of her deli, 2nd Street Eats, on Northeast Second Street in Bend.
"It's all organic, and that's what we stand behind, and that's what we're most proud of," she said. "It separates us."
Pollard said having the deli helps the chocolate sales, but ultimately she just wants to make chocolates.
"We want to be able to shut those front doors and just do chocolate production, just have all chocolates in here," she said.
Information from: The Bulletin, http:www.bendbulletin.com