SQUAMISH — When you walk by Xoco Westcoast Chocolates, Kevin Young’s specialty chocolate and pastry shop in downtown Squamish, it’s almost impossible to resist going inside.
The allure and subtle scent of fine chocolate reaches through the front door, coaxing passersby straight to the front display counter, where they invariably treat themselves to a few of Young’s latest creations.
“The thing I love is that when you eat a chocolate of fine quality,” said Young, “it’s not just that you’re eating a chocolate. It’s that you’re taking a minute and not doing anything else.”
At 20 years old, he has been making chocolates since age 16, initially learning the craft from his mother and business partner Annette Young, a longtime chocolatier now focusing on French and Italian-inspired pastries and cakes.
Young may be, well, young, but he’s already making his mark, with Xoco among a growing number of specialty chocolate shops that have popped up throughout Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods in the past decade.
And this is their best time of year: the annual Christmas love affair with all things sweet.
“Things are really starting to ramp up now,” said Young, who opened the tiny shop at 38020 Cleveland Ave. with his mother eight months ago, and makes all chocolates in-house with a myriad of flavouring ingredients including local distilled spirits. “I’m also doing corporate orders, stuff like that, which really helps getting me to the point where I can ramp up production.”
For Paul Dincer, pastry chef and owner of Koko Monk Chocolates at 1849 West 1st in Vancouver, Christmas sales are the “backbone” of his business.
The former film critic, whose shop opened three years ago, said his No. 1 bestseller is Blue Moon, a blue cheese chocolate with candied pear, using local and organic ingredients.
It’s modelled, he says, after John Schlesinger’s film Midnight Cowboy. “The con man character Ratso was the inspiration of it. There is nothing like its authenticity and uniqueness for us.”
Customer loyalty — especially around Christmas — is another thing that chocolatiers count on, something of which Anita Schultz, general manager of Sinfully The Best Chocolates, Fine Foods & Gifts in Richmond’s Steveston area, is well aware.
She cited an Ohio family that visited their shop last year.
“He phoned from Ohio to say they fell in love with our store, particularly our caramels, and wanted me to mail him 200 caramels to Ohio,” she said.
Demand for specialty chocolates has been growing each year within Metro Vancouver, says Christophe Bonzon, owner of Chez Christophe Chocolaterie Patisserie in Burnaby.
“People appreciate knowing that the product is made inside (the shop), that it’s made by people who care, and that it’s not like a big factory,” he said.
Anne-Geneviève Poitras, owner of Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France in Vancouver, attributes the recent growth in local chocolate shops to a strong European influence.
“There’s been a real change that started about eight years ago and it really took off about five years ago,” she said.
Poitras, who discovered her cooking talents during study breaks while attending law school, prides herself on making French chocolates entirely by hand, without machinery.
Young, whose shop is embarking on its first Christmas season, has big plans for expansion, including a keen desire to make bean-to-bar chocolates, in which the grinding of the bean and the making of the bar occur in one spot.
His mother previously owned the Squamish shop — then called Xocolatl — before selling it several years ago and moving to Langley. The family subsequently moved back to Squamish, buying and renovating the same shop, rebranding it as Xoco.
He has grown up in the chocolate business, and plans to stay in it.
“(Making chocolates) is what I’ll do for the rest of my life,” said Young.