While craft beer and coffee already have taken off in Northeast Florida, Jessica Diebel and Tucker Juan are hoping to make bar-to-bean craft chocolate a new trend.
The two are opening Makenu Chocolate at 30 Seminole Road in Atlantic Beach and have a soft opening planned Aug. 28 or Aug. 29.
They will make the chocolate in-house from cacao beans sourced from Belize and other countries.
Makenu will sell chocolate bars, Topsy Toffee, which Juan owns, and Deep Dive Truffles that Diebel owns.
Eventually, they may add hot chocolate or iced chocolate drinks, pastries and chocolate bar creations called inclusion bars, which could include fruits, nuts, herbs and spices.
The chocolate bars would range from $6 to $12 each, depending on the ingredients and source of the cacao beans.
They expect to be open three to four days a week to customers.
The front of the shop will have seating and display cases. The kitchen is in the back behind the counter, but with the shop’s open design, customers can see the chocolate being made.
The two invested $160,000 to start the shop, including build-out and the machinery needed to make the chocolate.
The beans are shipped to the shop. They go through a sorter, a roaster and then a cracker to remove the roasted bean from the shell.
The beans then go through a winnower, which Diebel’s dad and uncle built from drawings. The winnower separates the shell and the cacao nib.
A melanger is then used to combine the cacao nibs, sugar and cocoa butter to create the smooth texture of the final product.
Finally, it is put through a temperer, which heats the chocolate and starts the crystallization process. That ensures the chocolate does not sweat, snaps easier and is shiny. It is transferred to a mold where the chocolate sets and is wrapped.
Diebel, 39, and Juan, 32, grew up in Jacksonville.
Diebel started her career as a therapist in Colorado before returning to Jacksonville and taking a job at Bold Bean Coffee Roasters. She discovered the similarities between coffee roasting and cacao roasting.
She always toyed with the idea of opening a chocolate and wine shop, so over the next few years she researched chocolate production and made connections in the industry, including with Juan, who was already running Topsy Toffee.
He wanted to grow his toffee company, and Diebel wanted to do the same with hers, but also open a bean-to-bar shop.
They went on a trip to cacao farms in Belize in 2018 and from there decided they wanted to open a chocolate shop together.
“I think the idea of actually opening up the chocolate shop was very fantastical for a long time,” Diebel said. “It felt like Willy Wonka in the movies, or you see other people doing it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an option. And then it actually became an option within the past year.”
They will sell wholesale as well as at the shop.
They’ve had to make adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The had planned more community engagement and chocolate-making demonstrations, where they show customers how to make the chocolate bars and explain more about where the beans come from.
They hope to be able to engage more with the community and customers once the pandemic subsides.
“Being a small business owner in the community where I grew up is pretty surreal,” Diebel said. “I think the opportunity to enjoy what I’m doing in a way that I can communicate it to the community and offer them something that is aligned with our values and goals, it’s pretty cool.”
By: Katie Garwood