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Violet Sky produces two-ingredient artisan chocolate bars

No nuts or nougats — just the essential cacao and sugar, resulting in a chocolate bar that is far from basic.

Violet Sky, located within LangLab at 1302 High St., South Bend, specializes in producing two-ingredient, artisan chocolate. Owners Hans and Alison Westerink are now in their second month of legitimate operation. Although Violet Sky operates a booth at the South Bend Farmer’s Market every Saturday, Purple Porch Co-op, the supplier of its cane sugar, is the only storefront carrying the confections. Bars are priced at $8 each or 4 for $30.

The couple is currently sharing a space with Zen Café Coffee, but with word spreading about their carefully crafted product, construction is already underway for a permanent production area within LangLab. The project is slated for completion in late February or early March.

Visitors to the multi-purpose facility will be able to view each step of the chocolate-making process, one that typically takes four days from bean to bar.

“We’ll roast for one day and then transfer the beans to the melanger for three days,” Hans said. “We can usually do 20 pounds in four days.”

For comparison, a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar from the checkout aisle contains about 11 percent cacao. Each bar produced by Violet Sky packs a precise 77 percent cacao composition.

“I probably went through about 100 pounds of beans before I ever sold anything,” said Westerink.  “I made about 300 truffles and just gave them out to people.”

“I ate most of them,” said Alison, Hans’ chief assistant, of the trial truffles.

The Westerinks package each bar by hand. First, the standard, sleek wrapping of foil. Then, a sturdy sheet of paper is scored, cut, folded and sealed with a business card.

Hans understands the importance of a quality, visual appeal to customers.

“If you’re spending that much time on packaging, you probably care a lot about what’s inside,” he said. 

Violet Sky is a true grassroots operation trying to keep up with increasing demand.

“Leading up to Christmas, we sold out every weekend at the farmer’s market,” Hans said. “They close at 3 p.m., and we were out by 11 a.m.”

Presently, Violet Sky incorporates beans from five nations, including Belize, Guatemala, Peru, Madagascar and two varieties from Venezuela. Their different origins, as well as variations in roasting time and temperature, create each bar’s distinct flavor.

But in a competitive business environment, the brain behind the beans has chosen a different climate for his ingredient sourcing. Hans will soon find himself under the heat of the Honduran sun.

Westerink and Shaun Maeyans, of Zen Café Coffee, are scheduled to meet with Maeyans’ Central American source of coffee beans, grower Rudy Cárcamo, at the end of this month. The trip will introduce Westerink to Cárcamo’s cacao bean brethren and serve as the first step in building a relationship with bulk suppliers.

Elevated land conditions prevent Cárcamo himself from harvesting cacao. The group will descend to the neighboring low-lying valley to link with their connection.

“I don’t look for a good deal, I look for the beans that have the flavor — the flavor that I want.” 

South Bend businesses Oh Mamma’s on the Avenue and Bamber’s Superette Food Market have both expressed interest in carrying Violet Sky bars. Hans said fine dining restaurant LaSalle Grill intends to use his chocolate in its ice cream and cakes.

“We’re also making a chocolate stout at Bare Hands right now,” Hans said. “I brewed the beer with them — they didn’t need me there, but I was able to help.”

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