An up-and-coming local coffee and chocolate operation will soon set up shop in one of Pike Place Market’s most visible locations. For now, the changes will be subtle. But the guys behind Joe Chocolates have big, buzzed, ganache-laden plans afoot.
Co-founders Sam Tanner and Peter Keckemet make caffeinated chocolate so impressive you wouldn’t believe the business began in a UW fraternity house. On March 1, they’ll take over Local Color, the art-filled cafe at Pike and Stewart, right next to Beecher’s. You might also know this spot for its proximity to the guy who plays the upright piano.
Joe Chocolates makes a variety of dark chocolates, all infused with Lighthouse Roasters coffee, so it packs a buzz. It sounds rather gimmicky—until you taste their bark, swirled with salted caramel or honey almonds, or roasted coconut, and realize coffee’s low, roasty notes are made for dark chocolate. Their lineup is a nice change of pace for mid-afternoon caffeine boosts, except that one small bag of chocolate bark packs as much caffeine as two cups of coffee. And stopping at half a bag isn’t easy.
Hardly anything will change at Local Color in the coming months, says Tanner, but some menu changes “will allude to what’s to come.” In other words, “We’ll incorporate chocolate in more ways than just mochas.” After the high tourist season (and after the market’s lengthy approval process) the space will be reborn as Joe Chocolates’ headquarters, home to all their chocolate production and a retail counter that offers espresso, chocolate, and various handmade toppings, in all manner of combos. Plus a counter where you can buy your bark of choice by the pound, and have it wrapped up deli-style. Tanner doesn’t want to reveal too much about their plans yet, but let’s just say the term “ganache bar” came up in our conversation.
Joe Chocolates began as a project in Tanner and Keckemet’s entrepreneurship class at UW. The pair were making self-described “crappy chocolate and crappy coffee” for fellow students, but as their concept caught on with hikers who appreciated the lightweight, packable energy boost, the guys buckled down for some serious lessons in tempering and mixing dark chocolate. They trained with Bill Fredericks of Chocolate Man in Lake Forest Park, and count Fran Bigelow (yes, she of Fran’s Chocolates) as a mentor.
Tanner says he and Keckemet were busy with their wholesale business (perhaps you’ve seen their brown paper bags at Cone and Steiner, Bartell’s, Nordstrom, REI, or Met Market) and had no intention of opening a retail shop. Caffeinated chocolate is such a specific product, says Tanner—“where on earth would this make sense?”
Well, there is one place. Beecher’s owner Kurt Dammeier, a mentor and early investor in Joe Chocolates, thought it would be a great fit for Pike Place Market, the city’s most iconic champion of local producers. He also just happens to own the building that houses Local Color (and Beecher’s) and knew the owner wanted to retire. After the summer months, Local Color's new owners will close the space to transform it into a full-on temple of coffee and chocolate. When Joe Chocolates HQ debuts, likely around December, Tanner says the visible production space and retail counter will almost mirror Beecher’s next door.
The Joe Chocolates folks will share their plans in more detail this fall. But coffee plus chocolate likely equals a huge draw for locals and visitors alike. Keep tabs on the project via the Joe Chocolates Facebook and Instagram.