Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to line up at Willy Wonka's golden gates? That's exactly how it feels every time I wait in line to get into the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Located in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina, right beside Pack Square Park, The French Broad Chocolate Lounge is the spot to visit whether you are looking for a treat while brewery-crawling in the afternoon or something sweet after dinner at one of downtown Asheville's award-winning restaurants.
It All Started With A Bus and Some Vegetable Oil
The French Broad Chocolate Company's beginning was fueled by vegetable oil...literally. Dan Rattigan and Jael Skeffington, who met at a wedding in 2003, bought a 40-foot vegetable oil-powered school bus and drove down to Costa Rica where they purchased an abandoned cacao plantation. The couple opened up a café and dessert shop, Bread & Chocolate. Business was booming and Dan and Jael were officially chocolate makers, learning how to process cacao beans and craft chocolate into desserts and pastries customers loved.
Except there was a problem. Dan and Jael (and their new son Sam) were not big fans of the beach. So the chocolatiers sold their business to one of their cooks and drove the bus back north, ending up in Asheville, North Carolina.
French Broad Chocolates was small at first, the couple making their chocolate creations in their own home kitchen and selling at Farmers Markets in the area. The demand for the artisan chocolate was overwhelming and the couple opened their first location in 2008. Soon, the location was expanded, then moved in 2014, to where it currently sits.
From Cacao Bean to Truffles, Brownies, and Chocolate Cake
While the line outside might seem intimidating, a visit to this lounge is more than worth the wait. Inside boxes upon boxes of chocolate truffles line the shelves while the room is filled with the scents of chocolate and fresh pulled espresso. As you snake through the line, a windowed display shows the entire chocolate making process, including insight on all the farms the French Broad Chocolate Factory works with. In fact, a whole section of single-origin chocolate bars are labeled with each country of origin along with pictures of the farmer's themselves who grow the beans.
"We started out outsourcing all of our chocolate and phased in our bean-to-bar production as much as we were able," Dan explains in an interview with Eric Gorges from the PBS television show, 'A Craftsman's Legacy'. "At this point we are making 18 metric tons of chocolate per year, and the existing French Broad Chocolate Lounge pastry and confection operations comprise a majority of that. But it took us a while to get to the point where we could really make our own chocolate."
Today there are over 12 different chocolate bars to purchase as well as dozens of caramels, truffles, baking essentials, bakery items, and homemade ice cream.
Menu items to Try at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Come ready to eat, because once you get to the front of the line, it's almost impossible to just pick out one treat. Here's some favorites must-haves:
Chocolate Creme Brûlée
Creamy chilled chocolate custard contrasts with a crunchy, torched caramel top. Gluten-free.
Signature drinking chocolate: thick and velvety melted chocolate - warm & sippable (4oz). Choose from a Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, or Buddha (vegan dark chocolate) base + housemade seasonal flavored syrups. This thick drink is very rich and perfect to share with that special someone.
Quintessential Chocolate Cake
Devil's food cake, whipped chocolate ganache, dark chocolate glaze, chocolate curls.
A fudgy brownie with our bean-to-bar chocolate and cacao nibs.
Seeing the Factory in Action
Want more? Head on down to Riverside Drive and visit the Chocolate Factory, where tours of the facility are open to the public Wednesday through Saturday at 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm and Monday and Tuesday at 12pm and 2pm. Each tour includes a behind-the-scenes look at how the French Broad Chocolate Factory makes its famous chocolate and the chance to try some samples!