by Aimee Levitt
Nobody thought it would actually happen, least of all owner Brian Pelletier, but on Thursday, February 3, just two months after signing the lease and two days after an ice storm (and would-be snowpocalypse) hit St. Louis, Kakao Chocolate's second location is open for business at 7272 Manchester Road in Maplewood (phone: 314-645-4446). The store will be open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
"When we first saw the space, it was a gutted mess," Pelletier reports. "We had to refinish the floors, put in new walls for the office and storage room, hang the ceiling and fixtures, re-plumb the place. We had to get all the stuff, like tables and storage racks. Oh, and we had to make chocolate." While he was at it, Pelletier recruited artist Phil Jarvis to paint a forest of cocoa trees on the walls.
For now Kakao Maplewood offers the same truffles, bark, caramels and hot chocolate as the original location on South Jefferson Avenue (which, Pelletier wants to emphasize, is still open and remains Kakao's world headquarters), though Pelletier has no plans to install an espresso bar or a café area in deference to new neighbor Foundation Grounds. In the future, however, there will be a ten-foot farmhouse table for chocolate tastings and some other offerings to distinguish the new space from the original location, though Pelletier hasn't decided exactly what those will be.
"Maplewood is such a foodie community," Pelletier says. "There's Penzey's and Vom Fass and Nosh and the Schlafly Bottleworks, not to mention Acero and Monarch. People just know to come here for really great food, and now we've added chocolate to the mix."
Pelletier has been inspired by some of his new neighbors, particularly Vom Fass, which sells an assortment of flavored oils, vinegars and liqueurs.
"It's amazing!" he exclaims. "There are so many different flavors. I want to make truffles from all of them." So far he has made truffles with Vom Fass's honey balsamic vinegar. "It's an odd-sounding combination," he admits, "but I think it turned out well." (Gut Check, after tasting a free sample, would have to agree.)
At the moment Pelletier and his staff of nine are feverishly packing chocolates into heart-shaped boxes in anticipation of Valentine's Day, one of the biggest days on the chocolatier's calendar. A grand-opening celebration for the new store is scheduled for Saturday, February 26.
It has been less than three years since Pelletier took over Kakao and commenced making chocolate in a dark little back room on Cherokee Street and a little less than two since he opened up the Jefferson location. "People in St. Louis love chocolate," he says modestly. "We're just filling that need. I've never worked as hard as I am now, but I've never enjoyed my job more. I have the best job in the world: I get to make people happy."