photography by Natalie Jeanne
Even if Paul and Marlene Picton didn’t have the traditional marketing trappings of a small food business — logo, packaging, signage — the aroma wafting from their Maverick Chocolate shop would be promotion enough. Open the bright-red door along Findlay Market’s Essen Strasse (Elder Street), and you’re wrapped in a warm, chocolatey, sensory hug.
Maverick is a “bean-to-bar” enterprise, starting with raw cocoa beans, which the Pictons purchase in partnership with other artisan chocolate-makers directly from sustainably run plantations in Central and South America. They roast, grind, temper, mold, and package their bars right in the shop. Paul rebuilt an oven-sized chicken rotisserie into a cocoa bean roaster. From there, the beans spend four days in a whirring machine that resembles a motorized mortar and pestle; as the beans break down and the cocoa butter is released, the mixture becomes smooth and intense.
Flavored with a bit of organic sugar and other add-ins like bourbon and espresso, the chocolate is then tempered in a $20,000 piece of equipment, the Pictons’ largest start-up purchase. “Paul calls it the Ferrari,” Marlene says of the tempering machine (tempering produces the sheen and snap of fine chocolate). “It’s a damn expensive piece of Italian sheet metal,” Paul agrees. “We couldn’t do what we do without it.”
The Pictons source local ingredients — Kentucky bourbon and Bourbon Barrel smoked salt, Deeper Roots espresso, spices from Colonel De’s Gourmet Herbs & Spices. They’re exploring partnerships with other local food entrepreneurs, including Taft Ale House, which is planning a chocolate-infused beer.
Open just over six months, Maverick Chocolate is thriving. In January, the Pictons picked up a national Good Food Award in San Francisco for their chili-spiced Fahrenheit 513 dark chocolate bar. They’re now in the process of reconfiguring the shop to add production in the back and accommodate more shoppers up front. And now that Eli’s Barbecue is open at Findlay Market, the Pictons hope to stay open late for chocolate and coffee service.
Maverick represents a second career for the Pictons. Thinking back to the genesis of the idea in 2013, Paul says, “We underexpected and overdelivered. Some things were much harder than we expected. But we’re doing better than we anticipated, because the community has been so receptive to our product.”
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.