Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City
Industry: Food & Beverage
What do you do when you’ve mastered the coffee bean? Move on to chocolate, of course.
Dana Brewster, the co-owner and founder of Millcreek Cacao Roasters, has extensive experience in coffee manufacturing and was actually in Ethiopia visiting a coffee plantation when she decided to move on to chocolate. “On the tour, I saw a cocoa pod. I went back to my husband, Mark DelVecchio, and I told him we had to get into chocolate. It was really embracing something that we already loved. I have finished every meal with a piece of chocolate ever since I can remember. It was the right time to start something new.” Dana solicited her son, Steven Brewster, to join them on their adventure.
“With this business, I just put on my blinders, and I just went for it," Brewster says. “I decided to try it, and away we went. It was not easy. We had problems sourcing the equipment. Most equipment we found was made for large capacity chocolate manufacturing. We had to be really creative in finding equipment for making micro batches of chocolate. Our winnower, the machine that removes the husk from the bean, is actually for sunflower seeds. We also tweeked a coffee roaster to accommodate the delicate cacao bean.”
Brewster also had to find a cacao bean farm she could work with. “Coming from the coffee roaster business, we thought we could just buy from brokers,” Brewster said. “But the cacao industry currently does not have the same standards for rating as does the specialty coffee industry.” Brewster traveled to Ecuador for some blind tastings. “We went with a friend, toured different farms, and we found a jewel in our farmer. We also buy from another farm in Nicaragua. Our mission is to buy direct from these countries."
Buying direct is critical to Brewster. “We want to let people know we are actually doing what Farm-to-Bar chocolate really means. To do what we do, source cacao and buy direct, is a lot of work and a lot of money. And when our Ecuador farmer got his Heirloom certification, he increased his price by 25 percent. But we were happy to pay it."
Once the pods are harvested, they are split and the raw cacao beans are removed. “When we receive the cacao, we receive them in 100 pound bags. We roast the beans to unlock the flavors, and mill the beans in a stone-on-stone process in our factory," Brewster says.
Brewster is able to select the amount of cacao she wants to use in her products to bring out the “sweet spot” of the cacao. For her Nicaragua beans, it’s 78 percent and 70 percent for the Ecuador cacao. Once the chocolate is mixed and tempered, it’s poured into molds and hand wrapped.
“In Utah, we sell direct. We are our own distributor". Brewster says. “Outside of Utah, we sell through brokers." Of the two situations, Brewster prefers being her own distributor. “Part of being in business is having a good relationship with the customers. We prefer having that direct contact.”
Millcreek Cacao Roasters are also contract manufacturers for a handful of companies. They use their customers’ proprietary specifications and ingredients. “It has made our foundation stronger and more diversified”.
Brewster compares this new business to a roller-coaster ride. “There are ups and downs, twists and turns,” she says. “But it keeps you alive, it keeps you thinking. It stimulates the brain. We love it.”
Challenges: Conveying their message. “We want our customers to know we do what we say. We are Farm-to-Bar. Buying direct, sustainable growing methods, and the traceability of cacao is essential to our mission. We pay a premium and do not have a middleman to ensure that farmer gets the profit directly. I do not think we do a good job of sharing what we do, but once our customers try it, they are hooked!” Brewster says.
Opportunities: Hot cocoa mix! “We are using a raw Ecuadorian cacao, grinding up our own bars, and adding sugar to make a new hot chocolate mix. We are also trying to grow our Cacao tea. These new products continue to increase our brand horizontally and shows the strength of our product.”
Needs: Social media assistance. Brewster admits technology is not her first language. “Getting somebody who understands social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram would help!”