Brian Pelletier claims he has “the best job in the world,” and few would dispute that. He is the owner, founder and chief chocolatier of Kakao Chocolate. To quote Ira Gershwin, it’s nice work if you can get it—and Pelletier has got it! But working with chocolate wasn’t always his profession. “I was in marketing, communications and public relations—I was a senior VP at Fleishman-Hilllard,” Pelletier recalls. “And as I was approaching the 20-year mark, I was feeling the need to do something dramatically different. I knew that I wanted my own business, and that I wanted to physically make something with my hands. I also wanted to do something with food because I loved to cook, so I opened myself up to the universe to see what would happen.”
Soon enough, the universe responded by way of a friend, who was looking to sell some chocolate-making equipment. “So I did things in this order: I bought the equipment, I rented a space, I quit my job, and then I learned how to make chocolate,” he explains. “Now I realize that might sound odd, but I knew that I had to commit to it to be successful.”
Prior to opening the first Kakao location on Jefferson Avenue in May 2009, many might have thought the Pelletier had a previous adoration for chocolate—but that would be an incorrect assumption. “I liked chocolate as much as anyone,” he says, “but what I like to say is that my passion found me, because I am now passionate about chocolate! There's something that's magical about it. It's very different from just about any other food, and it can be so many things—and paired not just with sweet, but with savory, as well.”
In February 2011, Pelletier opened Kakao’s second location in Maplewood, and he notes that all of Kakao’s confections are handmade at both stores. “We use only all-natural ingredients,” he says, explaining that there are no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or sweeteners used. “And we incorporate as many local ingredients as we can, like lavender from Winding Brook Estates in Eureka, honey that we buy from the farmers market and local beer (Schlafly and Four Hands Brewing Co.), as well. It’s very important to us, not only to support the community, but to make sure we are using the best ingredients.” Pelletier says that Kakao also uses organic cinnamon, and he notes that organic vanilla beans and real butter are included in the caramel that is made onsite. “By far, the most popular items that we sell are our dark and milk chocolate sea salt caramels—people just go wild for them!” He adds that more women are buying chocolate for men—a phenomenon proven in the past few days for Valentine's Day. “We made confections with bourbon, scotch, port wine and chili pepper.” There also was a smoked truffle, made from a smoked tea, that apparently is appealing to men, as well.
“I just have the best job in the world!” Pelletier exclaims. “I have employees who love what they do, and we get to make people happy all day long. It's so much fun to create things that people enjoy, but it's not just about the chocolate—our customers love the experience of coming into our stores. They talk to us while we are making the confections and ask us about what we are doing and the ingredients we are using. We just love sharing the entire experience with them.”