|Chocolatier's Art is Easy to Savor—April 2008|
One might feel a little guilty about eating a William Dean chocolate — and not just because of the calories.
Each is a hand-painted miniature work of art.
But biting into pieces filled with lavender and lemon caramel, pecan marzipan, strawberry balsamic or lemongrass and coconut is an adventure in different tastes.
So who is William Dean and where does one find these artisan chocolates?
William Dean Brown, 47, was an executive at Ceridian in Tampa several years ago when he was inspired by an episode on the Food Network to make some hand-rolled truffles as a treat for his staff. He had never made candy before.
"It was the beginning of a passion that I don't ever see waning," Brown said in an interview from his Largo-based business.
At first it was a hobby. But as it began to take over his life, he started to think it could be a viable business.
He spent some time with artisan chocolatier Chris Elbow in Kansas City, Kan., and studied with other noted chocolatiers. He learned the chemistry of chocolate and its textures and flavors, as well as tempering, molding, dipping and decorating.
He tested the market for his creations at local charity events.
A visit with his family in Kansas City two years ago gave him the nudge he needed to start the business. While shopping, he and his mother stopped by Dean and DeLuca, an international upscale gourmet grocery store. The chocolates on display were priced at $60 a pound.
"My mom said nobody would pay those prices. But the employee behind the counter said they couldn't keep the chocolates in stock they sold so fast. With that, my mom retorted, 'Well, his chocolates look better than these,' '' Brown said.
Today, Dean and DeLuca is his primary customer. There, his chocolates sell for $60 a pound. He charges $1.50 per piece.
In business less than a year, he already has achieved some fame.
Most recently, he was invited to make chocolates for a dinner for Pope Benedict XVI in Washington, D.C.
Find him at the Taste of Seminole this weekend.
What do you enjoy most about the business?
"The visuals — the look of it — and the tastes — the blending of different flavors."
What products are included on your confectionary menu?
"Jellied fruit candies made with purees, popcorn in eight different flavors and more than 30 hand-painted chocolates. I use mostly French chocolate. It's processed in a way that I like."
Where are the chocolates available?
"Beans About Cooking in Belleair Bluffs; Hooker Tea Company in St. Petersburg; the Berry Gourmet Web site and Dean and DeLuca in Kansas City and Charlotte, N.C. By the end of the year, I expect to be in more than 90 national retail locations, hotels and several retail Web sites and catalogs."
What investment did it take to start the business?
"With family and friends as investors, it took a little over $100,000 to get started. The costs were mostly for equipment. I formed the company last May but didn't start production until September and opened the doors in October."
He has two part-time employees: Scott Carpenter, who handles the retail side and Valerie Diaz Leroy, a local teacher with a culinary degree.
Is the business named after you?
"No. I named the company after my father, William, and my grandfather, Dean, who were two of my biggest influences and my namesakes. My father was in the final stages of a six-year battle with cancer and it meant a lot to him to see me starting on this new career path and in a way taking him and his father with me."
William Dean Chocolates 12551 Indian Rocks Road, Suite 1, Largo.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
Call (727) 593-0656.
If you go:
Sweet spot: William Dean Chocolates 12551 Indian Rocks Road, Suite 1, Largo.Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. (727) 593-0656.
By Christina K. Cosdon, Times Staff Writer