Who knew the power of
watching artisans create elegant, decorative chocolates on the Food Network
could be so inspiring? And scrumptious. William Brown, founder and chief artist
behind William Dean Chocolates learned firsthand.
When the Kansas City
transplant moved to the Bay area 20 years ago by way of Atlanta and a tech
industry bust that was inevitable, Brown had no idea where his career would
take him but the buried artist within saw something in that chocolate-laden
episode that day. It may not have immediately set new entrepreneurial dreams in
motion but it stirred something. He appreciated the imagination that went into
artisan chocolate, and it rekindled the passion in that young creative student
who got pulled into the principal’s office for bringing paper towels into class
to draw on during lessons. The artistic side that lay dormant for so long
suddenly awoke. “Artisan chocolate allowed me to trust myself in a creative way
again,” he says. While he continued to work a traditional job, Brown started
making truffles on the side and eventually cheesecakes.
“My mind wasn’t drawing up a business and trying to figure out what kind of product to drop into a plan,” he says. “I found something I was passionate about that reawakened those dreams to start a new business.”
William Brown, Founder
William Dean Chocolates was founded in 2007, named in honor of both his father William Dean Sr. and his grandfather Dean. He says like both of them, he always has been a bit of a dreamer, and unlike him, they didn’t get to pursue the dreams they both had – his grandfather, an up and coming boxer and his father, an athlete and aspiring doctor who switched majors to pick something that would be more sensible and easier to achieve as he began to support a growing family. By naming the company after two men he admired and who would have encouraged him to continue following his passions, it’s like they get to join him for the ride every day, he muses.
Top 10 Chocolatiers in North America
Since its launch, William Dean Chocolates has made a name for itself locally, nationally and internationally for its unique designs and creative flavors of artisan chocolates and have even be featured in a major motion picture, The Hunger Games, as well as on both The View and The Tonight Show. The company has garnered over 100 awards and been selected as one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers in North America.
The Art of Making Chocolate
What does it take to make truly memorable chocolate? If you ask the artist behind William Dean Chocolates, he will tell you – it comes down to two things: interior and exterior.
“Something struck a chord with me the instant I start playing with chocolate. What I liked about it was the two things going on – the flavors inside and where I could be creative, and the exterior, and how it was represented. I guess I looked at it like a medium or art form to people, the way the chocolates looked as well as the way they tasted. And that just pulled me in,” Brown says.
But Brown’s not the only one captivated by the many vibrant and eclectic looks and tastes one will find in the William Dean Chocolates collection. Often fans of the chocolates will issue protests at the mere suggestion of possibly replacing a flavor or design to introduce a new one. As Brown points out, the company can only have so many different flavors and designs, but to add to the lineup would involve removing, and that would be most unpopular with fans.
Flavors Across the Spectrum
Brown says he tries to represent some of the more commonly found flavors to support chocolate such as raspberry and salted caramel that are often blended with chocolate yet he makes certain they put their own unique spin on them, often drawing inspiration from other foods.
For example, enjoy Thai food? Why not try William Dean Chocolates’ Tom Ka inspired Lemon Grass chocolate which does not attempt to recreate the coconut soup but instead pull from the various flavors in it such as lemon grass and coconut and transform it into a chocolate with just a little twist and some sweetening.
Chocolate is His Canvas
But flavor isn’t everything when you’re takling about artisan chocolates. The combination of both a stunning interior AND exterior must have that wow factor, and Brown enjoys dreaming up the visuals whether he is driving on a business trip or literally diving into sleep and letting his dreams inspire future designs. Sometimes he admitd the visual may have nothing to do with the flavor but a mood or colors its taste evokes upon sampling it.
Depending on the time of year, Brown’s production team making chocolates out of the Belleaire Bluffs shop and product kitchen features as few as four and as many as 20 people. Whether painstakingly cutting out precise squares from a sheet pan or employing the use of intricate Belgian molds into the shapes of everything from crowns and hearts to butterflies, making one batch of chocolate can take 2-3 days. Brown says his best seller is always his salted caramels, not his personal favorite but according to writer Melissa Clark of The New York Times in her past article “The Best in the Box,” these caramels of his are “downright sexy.
Brown admits that some of their most stunning creations are also popular
because they do demand so much visual attention. Candies like William Dean
Chocolates’ Crème Brulee, Key Lime, PB Krunch Crowns and Butterfly candies with
their hint of lavender are some of his most-asked about chocolates.
What’s Happening @ William Dean Chocolates
In the spring
and summer, it’s not unusual to find candy-making classes available as well as
tearoom visits packaged with tours of the kitchen, so visitors can see the
candy-making process in action. In fact, the shop typically hosts anywhere from
30 to 40 classes each year between May and August which usually sell out within
a day or two. In addition, the shop provides a unique backdrop for nearly a
dozen private events throughout the year.
During its busiest times, most interaction is across the many glass-covered trays of elegant artisan chocolates and scrumptious pastries. People might be surprised to learn that the shop hosts afternoon tea Thursdays through Sundays and makes fresh pastries and gelato every day. Brown says when their regular customers stop by, it’s about more than chocolate.
“What I hear from people who live around here is that our shop is an experience. They always want to bring their friends because this is something exciting and you usually only find it in a large U.S. city.”
Holiday Gifts Are Aplenty To Ship Or Pick-up
The first two weeks of December are the shop’s busiest holiday weeks for those ordering online or purchasing at the store to have shipped out to long-distance friends, family or corporate clients. The general rule of thumb with William Dean Chocolates is to ensure that these tasty gifts are enjoyed during their first three weeks of arrival to experience the utmost level of freshness and richness.
But even if you are still shopping for your holiday recipients only weeks before Christmas, you’re in luck. Local residents are encouraged to forego online shopping and drop by the shop, because there they will uncover a treasure trove of other holiday gifts for the serious chocolate lover not available on the website. Visitors will find everything from chocolate coffee mugs and chocolate Santas to entire jigsaw puzzles made out of — you guessed it! — sumptuous, artisan chocolate.
William Dean Chocolates ~ A Community Partner Giving Back
Right now, with the holidays in full swing, the shop doesn’t have any in-house events currently scheduled but outside of the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day, they often take part in area fundraisers by donating gift baskets for local fundraisers and silent auctions and then in the spring, work closely with a few nonprofits for which the company has been involved in supporting for some time, programs that are near and dear to Brown’s heart. “I have two nieces with cystic fibrosis and so my awareness is higher than most people, so we have a program where all of the profits from our 65 Roses Bar go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” he says. William Dean Chocolates also works annually with The Ryan Wells Foundation to help aspiring high school chefs. Brown and crew participate in “Evening with the Chefs” to raise over $100K every May by making desserts for the 400 or so in attendance.
Shopping Locally and Creating Locally Too!
Brown says he has enjoyed building a relationship not just with his own immediate community of Belleair Bluffs but of the Tampa Bay area in general. He has been actively involved to support major voices in the area get the word out about how unique this part of the state is, recently filming a video with Visit St. Pete that highlighted some of the different aspects of the area that make it unique — and that included William Dean Chocolates and its popular shop.
William Dean Chocolates prides itself on making all of its own products right here in Belleair Bluffs, and whenever possible, uses local vendors for many of its ingredients. There have also been opportunities over the years to team up with other local businesses such as using Kahwa coffee beans in its confections and collaborating with Big Storm to develop a chocolate stout beer. Over the years, the shop has built relationships with other area businesses from restaurants and cafes to hotels and resorts, and these relationships continue to provide a valuable platform to introduce William Dean Chocolates to new fans every day to shop local at his delightful store. It is really quite a destination!
“One of my goals when we started is you want to be a treasure to your local community and do what you have to do, not just from a product standpoint, but in the community, too,” Brown says. “I moved to Tampa Bay to restart my career and in the end, it was Tampa Bay that provided the opportunity and inspiration for William Dean Chocolates.”
We Asked William Dean Chocolates’ Founder…
“WHY SHOP LOCAL?”
“When it comes to vendors, we have to use some national companies or specialty companies from outside the area due to our unique ingredient needs. I can order all my cream, milk, eggs, produce etc. from a national company, but for these items I like to use either the local grocery store (Publix) or a farmer’s market. It costs more, but I feel like it’s helping the businesses around me. So Shop Local is part of our business and personal life too.”
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