Monday, December 15, 2008


Brooklyn's Dark Secret

By Paige Reddinger

Most Americans think Switzerland is the only place to find fine chocolate, but two Iowa City-born brothers with a penchant for the popular confection are determined to make Brooklyn, NY a sweet tooth destination with their hand-made chocolate.

Rick Mast, 32 and Michael Mast, 29 conceived the idea for a chocolate factory when they began experimenting with different recipes in the apartment they shared in Williamsburg. Rick, a former chef at New York institutions like Gramercy Tavern and Soho House as well as a stint with chocolatier Jacques Torres, first learned about the complexity of chocolate in culinary school. He began testing — and tasting — some off-beat ideas and bringing the results home to his brother who was working in independent films. With their homemade chocolate they started to develop a cult following among friends and family and before long there was a business plan. "Things kind of came together and we kind of shook hands, quit our jobs and went for it," says Michael.

Now a year later, they have the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in New York and one of only a handful throughout the United States. After sourcing the beans themselves in places like Venezuela, Ecuador and Madagascar, they turn cacao into chocolate by breaking roasted beans down into pieces, shelling them and then grinding them into paste which then gets kneaded and refined until the desired texture and flavors are produced.

What started as an interest in serving their community has blossomed into a booming wholesale business catering to clients such as Marlow & Sons restaurant and the Urban Rustic grocery store in Brooklyn as well as the Stone Barns market in Pocantico Hills, New York. The brothers also plan to open their first store in Williamsburg early next year. "We actually have over 250 accounts on a waiting list across the country so it's just getting crazy. We barely have time to make everything," says Rick. The new store will also serve as their factory, which will allow customers to watch the detailed craftsmanship that goes into the process of making the bars by hand. In addition to their bars — beautifully wrapped in Florentine paper and paper designed by local artists — the brothers plan to sell chocolate produced by other bean-to-bar makers in the U.S. as well as truffles, hot cocoa powder and chocolate that can be used as a base for the customer's own experimentation.

Eventually they would like to become New York's designated chocolate makers, but for now they are savoring sweet success.