By Gregory Daurer | May 23, 2022
Joel Dar and Gila Kaplan-Dar found inspiration to start DAR Chocolate when the couple traveled to Costa Rica in 2014. "We were on a search for what to do with our lives," says Joel.
What they discovered there was cacao, which was being promoted in its raw form as a health food. "From the moment we met the cacao, we knew that was going to be our path," says Joel.
Raw cacao eventually led the two of them -- who'd previously worked, respectively, in film production and graphic design -- to investigate chocolate making. The couple's passion for cacao -- and their knowledge of it -- grew by leaps and bounds.
By the time they decided to move to the United States, they knew what path they wanted to pursue: manufacturing chocolate in Colorado, a state Dar had visited previously, and which had fewer chocolate makers than California. It was quite a leap for them, Dar admits: "We both didn't have a background in manufacturing, in general, or food manufacturing," he says.
Today, DAR Chocolate produces single origin bars using cacao originating in places like Costa Rica (which is "deep chocolatey with hints of ripe berries," according to the packaging) and the Dominican Republic ("earthy, nutty and hints of fruity and smokey notes").
"We do the whole process: roasting and winnowing, then grinding, tempering, molding," says Dar of the company's bean-to-bar production. Other chocolates get infused with flavors like hibiscus flower; orange peel and essence; cinnamon and cloves; and lemongrass and ginger; as well as coffee beans which are ground together with the cacao during the making of a popular bar of theirs.
Another discovery Joel and Gila made along their journey has been CBD. They have a separate product line called GATAKA, which consists of chocolate infused with "good-tasting" full-spectrum hemp oil (a culinary struggle to source, says Dar). "We came from Israel, and Israel is maybe the leader in the world of research in CBD," he adds. Dar calls cacao "a natural carrier for CBD, because it naturally contains anandamide, which is an endocannabinoid." (Here's an intriguing abstract on cannabis and chocolate.)
DAR Chocolate is based at a commercial kitchen facility in Thornton, occupying about 1,000 square feet presently, in addition to having access to 500 square feet of common space with other tenants where the packaging equipment and storage is kept. But Joel and Gila plan on securing another 1,000 square feet within the same facility, so they can add "two bigger machines for grinding that can increase our capacity to 500 kilos a day."
And business is booming again, now that COVID-19 has simmered down somewhat. "It feels now, the last three months, like spring has arrived after two years of winter," says Dar. Presently, DAR Chocolate can be found in around a dozen states within 300 stores: as examples, there are Central Market stores in Texas and Whole Foods shops in the Rocky Mountain Region (which includes Utah, Kansas, West Texas, New Mexico and Kansas). And 50 percent of sales for the company's GATAKA line of CBD chocolates are taking place online, in addition to being sold in "about 120 to 150 stores in some eighth to 10 states." Chains don't tend to sell both DAR and GATAKA in their stores, but Pharmaca is one that stocks both.
The chocolate makers have had a good deal of help getting where they are today. They give shout-outs to chocolate maker Paul Johnson of Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate, who imparted crucial knowledge to them early on during their cacao discovery process; Steven DeVries in Denver, one of the earliest craft chocolatiers in America; the company Cholaca, from whom they purchase non-alcoholic cocoa liquor for their infusions; and the people who work for them, including their French chief of operations, Esther Rozenkier, and Sima Amsalem, their master chocolatier who had her own chocolate company in Jerusalem for over a decade, and whom Joel refers to as the "Chocolate Whisperer" for her innate understanding of the whole chocolate-making process.
Joel and Gila have learned that their last name has different meanings in multiple languages. In Spanish, it's a verb meaning "to give." In Polish, it means "a gift."
So what has DAR Chocolate as a business given Joel and Gila?
Joel says it's given them the "privilege to do something that brings good to people, that makes people happy." He adds, "We make chocolate. Everybody smiles at us, because who doesn't like chocolate?"
Challenges: Hot temperatures and cold temperatures. "You cannot let it be outside in freezing temperature," says Dar of chocolate. "In summer, we use special packaging to ship the chocolate."
Opportunities: "We are opening now to more B2B customers, who use chocolate in their products," says Dar. "We can offer them a better chocolate than the industrial chocolate [they'd otherwise buy] and pretty much for a similar price. Better and cleaner chocolate for the products."
DAR Chocolate also plans to utilize the talents of several different artists in the near future to create packaging for them. Already, the packaging includes photos of "bloom art" -- aesthetically-appealing photos of the naturally occurring designs appearing within their untempered chocolate, which form when the fats separate from the solids. Furthermore, they use a mold which scores their chocolate bars in uneven portions: "We like the fact that it's not equal parts of the chocolate," giving people something to think about when they look at it, says Dar.
Needs: "We need to grow our sales and customer base in parallel to growing the production capacity," says Dar.