Story by Dave Eckert
Chocolate. Just say the word and you’re almost guaranteed to elicit a response. Whether you’re a fan of dark, rich, high octane chocolate, creamy and decadent chocolate truffles, or a light and sweet milk chocolate, there is likely a style and taste of chocolate that suits your palate. And if you’re not a fan of chocolate of any kind, well, you have my pity.
Chocolate has a long history on our planet. Scientists have found evidence dating chocolate back to the present-day Mexico as early as 1900 B.C. There, residents cultivated cacao plants, fermenting the beans into a paste that they mixed with a variety of ingredients to create a chocolate drink. Early civilizations believed this drink both enhanced their mood and improved their libido. They also believed chocolate possessed mystical and spiritual qualities. Who knows? They may have been right.
The history of chocolate in Kansas City is less shrouded in mystery and spirituality and more rooted in business. I caught up with one of those early Kansas City-based chocolate businesses for a look back and a look ahead. “In the beginning, it was just us and Russell Stover. There were very few other chocolate candy makers, and none doing high-end luxury chocolates. I give my grandparents tremendous credit for creating the luxury chocolate candy market that we see in Kansas City today,” Rene Bollier of Andre’s Confiserie Suise told me.
Rene is the third generation of Bolliers running Andres, carrying on the legacy begun by his grandfather in 1955. That year, Andre Bollier moved from Switzerland to Kansas City to pursue his dream of opening his own chocolate shop. Rene has been working at, or hanging around, Andre’s, since he was five. He has witnessed many changes through the years. “When Andre’s began in 1955, everything was done by hand. Over the past 63 years, we have strategically integrated equipment that enables us to produce the same decadent chocolate candies in a more efficient manner while still ensuring the very highest quality,” Bollier said. “Over the past 10 years we’ve seen tremendous growth in chocolate sales both locally and nationally which enables us to utilize the technology and equipment to its first potential.”
With the growth in sales has come growth in competition. Bollier says he welcomes that competition; it keeps him and everyone at Andres focused on producing the best products possible while carrying on the legacy of one of the finest chocolate shops in the country. “There is now intense competition both locally and nationally which is nothing but exciting for us as a business. It shows that the demand for high-end chocolate is there, and it forces us to be on the top of our game. Today, if you’re not producing the highest quality chocolates, it’s hard to achieve success,” Bollier stated.
One of the most successful chocolatiers in this, or any other, era of Kansas City history is Christopher Elbow. Known nationally, and even internationally, for producing some of the most creative, beautiful, and delicious chocolates in the world, Christopher Elbow burst onto the scene in 2003 and has taken the chocolate world by storm. “I was working as a pastry chef at The American Restaurant in Crown Center. It’s where I discovered a growing demand for chocolates and confections crafted with higher quality chocolate and ingredients,” Elbow said.
Elbow is known for his gorgeous chocolate designs, but he wants consumers to know he is equally committed to crafting unique taste experiences using the highest quality chocolate and best ingredients from around the world. Elbow is proud of that and the fact that the company was founded in Kansas City before taking the rest of the country by storm. “That’s great not just for our company, but for the city. We were able to play a part in getting the national spotlight on Kansas City for being more than a barbecue town,” Elbow smiled.
Like Andres, Christopher Elbow Chocolates has grown over its 15 years. But also like Andres, the bottom line of producing the finest chocolate possible has never wavered. Elbow vows that it never will. “As we have grown, our quality and attention to detail has remained constant. What has changed is our innovation in flavor and product selection of time,” Elbow shared.
Finally, I asked both Elbow and Bollier their personal favorite chocolate they produce. “My favorite product we make is our pecan caramels. It’s a more modern and delicious take on the classic turtle,” Elbow told me. For Bollier, it’s one of Andres newer offerings. “My favorite is our new J. Rieger Chocolate Whiskey Shot. This is a collaboration between two amazing multi-generational Kansas City companies. Made with J. Rieger & Co. Kansas City Whiskey, the delicate dark chocolate shell filled with whiskey is a perfect combination of balance and flavor,” Bollier concluded. How’s that sound? See, I knew I’d get a reaction!