The factory’s ‘custom-built machines’ are capable of producing up to 1.5m bars annually – 10 times the output of the chocolate maker's existing space, which is located less than a mile away in the city’s renowned Mission District.
An optical sorter will add machine learning to the chocolate-making process, using an algorithm to reject subpar beans, while a gravity separator will remove rocks. Dandelion also installed a bright yellow, 70-kilo Diedrich cocoa roaster, a Technochoc tempering line to mold two-ingredient chocolate bars, and a cablevey system to transport beans from ‘the bean room’ directly to the roaster.
Five years in the making, this factory is large enough to sustain production for 'many, many years,' co-founder Todd Masonis told ConfectioneryNews.
"There was a ton of complexity to figuring out how to scale up production while increasing quality and being true to our values," he said, noting the additional challenges of building in a major city, especially San Francisco. Despite the arduous process, he added, "we hope that it will have been worth the wait and are excited to share it with more people."
Experiential and transparent
The production room features elevated platforms and stepped seating for guests to view production up-close and engage in discussion, the company said in a release.
Dandelion will offer daily tours as well as educational classes – 'super important' elements of the business, said Masonis – covering the fundamentals of chocolate to specific ingredients, sourcing and process.
"I think customers want to know where their food is coming from, how it's made, and in our case, how it's different from what they are used to," Masonis told ConfectioneryNews. "We've put everything on display so customers can see with their own eyes how we make chocolate and that they can trust us.
"We've had many customers who've taken multiple classes with us, gone on trips to origin, and become informal evangelists for our chocolate and craft chocolate in general."
Learning by tasting
Visitors enter through the retail shop and café, where they can purchase finished bars and pastries, as well as coffee and chocolate beverages, including a European drinking chocolate and frozen hot chocolate.
The company hired pastry chef Lisa Vega, a veteran of tasting-menu restaurant Gary Danko and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, to lead the dessert-centric kitchen.
Bloom, the ‘chocolate salon,' serves breakfast and lunch in a full-service restaurant overlooking the production room.
The morning menu includes a chocolate granola, brioche with a house hazelnut spread, and churros with spiced chocolate sauce. For the afternoon, Vega developed a series of chocolate-laced pastries such as a citrus macaron and Earl Grey profiterole.
Notably, afternoon service features three ‘tasting explorations’: an eight-course dip into the cacao pod – from rind to pulp, husk, nibs and refined chocolate; three ice cream dishes, including a root beer float; and a tasting of three single-origin varieties.
Gensler, the architecture firm behind the twisting Shanghai Tower, designed the remake of the 107-year-old building, highlighting exposed wooden beams and bricks.
Former tech entrepreneurs, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring started Dandelion chocolate in 2010 after experimenting with two-ingredient chocolate at home. They used sustainably sourced cacao beans and organic cane sugar, eschewing the oft-used cocoa butter, vanilla and soy lecithin.
The duo opened their first retail store in 2013, and have since opened another shop in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as in four Japanese cities and Taipei.
Today, Dandelion works directly with small farmers to ensure sustainability and fair working conditions, including an investment in two cocoa producers. The company focuses on single-origin varieties, creating 70% to 100% chocolate from bean-to-bar in its San Francisco facility.
"It's probably the most interesting time for chocolate in the last 150 years,” said co-founder Todd Masonis, comparing the growing interest in bean-to-bar and single-origin chocolate to the craft coffee movement. “When we started, there were a handful of small chocolate makers in the US and now there are over 200."
Dandelion chocolate can be found at more than 550 retail locations around the world for about $8.50 to $12 per bar.