Nathaniel Izard calls himself a “bean-to-bar” chocolate maker. That means he buys organic cacao beans from which chocolate is made, sorts them, roasts them, “winnows” them, removing the shell, grinds them and adds organic cane sugar to make his Izard Chocolate bars.
Now Izard, who’s been selling his chocolate at the Hillcrest Farmers Market since last year, has opened up a storefront at 623 Beechwood St. in Hillcrest across from Kroger. There he sells truffles and caramels in addition to his 2.8-ounce bars.
This is premium chocolate and his products come at a premium price: $9 for the bars, $1.50 for truffles and $1 for caramels. But, Izard said, he wants to sell only the best chocolate, and he wants to ensure that the farmers growing the cacao receive fair compensation.
“My chocolate’s really high-quality chocolate, and it definitely has a higher price point than a lot of chocolate bars,” he said. “I’m looking for people who are interested in that quality.”
A trip to Italy led Izard, who’s just shy of 24, to try his hand at a food-related business. “While I was over there, I really enjoyed the food scene, and I enjoyed the small-business aspect of a lot of the companies that I saw over there,” he said. “And I knew that when I got back to the United States, I was going to try to start my own company.”
(There must be something about Italy. Kyle Tabor, founder of Blue Sail Coffee in Conway and an Arkansas Business 20 in Their 20s honoree this year, also found inspiration there before launching his coffee shop, which just happens to carry Izard Chocolate.)
At the same time, Izard, a native of North Little Rock, became interested in chocolate making, though not necessarily as a business. “I started Googling ‘How do you make chocolate,’ kind of like people who want to make lasagna,” he said.
“At that point, I started making some chocolate. And then I went from there. The first couple of batches were pretty bad. But then I started making some stuff that people were going, ‘Wow, this is really good. I really like this.’”
So Izard started playing around with some numbers and realized he might be able to make a business out of his newfound interest in chocolate. He founded Izard Chocolate in February 2014 and opened his Hillcrest shop in August of this year.
Izard invested about $100,000 in his storefront, most of that in the equipment required to make big batches of chocolate, including a custom-built roasting machine, a tempering machine and a stone grinder.
He produces about 100 pounds of chocolate a week, which he also sells online, IzardChocolate.com. The website also lists retailers around the state carrying his chocolate; in Little Rock they include Mylo Coffee Co., Terry’s Finer Foods, Eggshells Kitchen Co., the Green Corner Store, Colonial Wine & Spirits and Hillcrest Artisan Meats.
He also has wholesale customers, and in the run-up to the holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas through Valentine’s Day is peak chocolate season) has added some corporate customers buying gifts for clients.
“Chocolate just really works well as a gift,” Izard said. “And then because I’m a local chocolate maker, a lot of people really enjoy giving that as a gift to people out of town and their relatives in different states.”
Izard’s store is open only three days a week currently, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. He doesn’t have any full-time employees but does have a couple of part-time workers.
People have enjoyed coming to the shop and seeing the machinery and learning how chocolate is made. “Overall, sales have almost doubled since I opened the shop,” Izard said.