I spoke with a colleague of mine last week about how businesses aren’t as retail focused anymore. They want to establish these deep personal connections with their customers. Small businesses here in Burlington are even more unique to that point. They are passionate about what they are selling; they know where it came from, who made it and why you should try it.
Last year at Burlington BeerFest, I met Bernhard Mueller. Mueller is the lead chocolatier at Christy’s Gourmet Gifts. At the time,h e gave me a sample of his craft beer infused brittle. It was very unique, and extra delicious. I had been meaning to follow up with him at his shop on Walker’s Line, just south of Mainway. I finally did.
When you walk into Christy’s, it is a small, unassuming shop dressed up with flair and poise. The Christy behind Christy’s is Mueller’s wife. Fourteen years ago when she was on maternity leave with their youngest daughter, she took her grandmother’s recipe for chocolate and started selling it. When she was ready to go back to work, she turned to Mueller to take over the business. “I had my own decorative paint company at the time,” he said. Mueller did work for Candice Olson’s show Devine Design during that time. But he felt compelled to put down his paint brush and cross over into the world of chocolate. He says that although they seem so different, they cross is in the creativity.
Mueller imports the majority of his chocolate from Europe; France and Belgium to be specific. “The way it works here in North America is that it’s all about quantity. In Europe, it’s still a craft,” he said. Fair warning, don’t get sticker shock when you browse. It’s not the same as buying a candy bar from Walmart or Dollarama; Mueller stresses quality. “I’m very fussy about my chocolate,” he said. “I make all the bars by hand.”
Chocolate has been a true adventure for Mueller. His education began, as many people’s does, through the web. He would watch a lot of videos and read books, but he knew if he
wanted to step it up he would need to further his education. So he jetted off to California to study under a world-class French chocolatier at the Chocolate Academy, then off to the windy city of Chicago to learn sweet making. It was there he got the idea to put a different spin on the classic sponge toffee.
This year will be different for Mueller. He feels like he has learned all there is to learn about making chocolate from the cocoa that comes from Europe. Now he is taking an even more unique approach, “I want to take it from the tree and turn it into chocolate.” Recently, Mueller took a trip to Costa Rica where he met with local farmers who grow Cacao. Cacao is chocolate in its purest form; the raw bean is bitter, but it is a superfood. Mueller will be importing beans from a farmer he met on his trip to turn them into truly delicious creations.
“I’ve got a passion for chocolate that is not about the retail,” he said. Mueller wants to educate the masses about what quality chocolate tastes like, comparing it to wine along the way. He brings in rare types of chocolate not with the concern of even selling it he says. He wants to talk about it, to educate, to tell the story of how it got to his shelf.