In the late 1800s and early 1900s Saint Andrews, New Brunswick became a seaside resort for people from Montreal and Boston seeking to escape the summer heat. We spoke with entrepreneurial chocolate makers, Mark and Victoria McGuire, about moving their businesses from Alberta to New Brunswick and how they are making this border town known as a destination for beating the heat into one for amazing sweets.
Built on integrity, quality and transparency, the McGuire’s are committed to producing a bean-to-bar chocolate with a focus on simplicity and taste.
Originally starting McGuire Chocolate Company in Calgary, business analyst Mark McGuire and his wife Victoria, with a background in planning services, decided to satisfy their entrepreneurial aspirations by building a business based on their shared values and passions that they could grow from infancy.
Mark McGuire shared with Spotlight Magazine that, “They fell into the chocolate world by chance while travelling in Central America.” Following that, in 2016 Mark had taken a chocolate making course while acquiring all the equipment necessary to start making chocolate from the cacao bean.
Mark recalls that on one of their first dates, he and Victoria went grocery shopping and were shocked with how common non-essential ingredients were on product labels. This brought them to a mutual realization that the business that they would create would have to produce a natural, superior product without excess additives.
Craft chocolate is a relatively new concept. What distinguishes craft chocolate from mass-market chocolate is the human touch and transformation in every element as well as the quality and traceability of ingredients. Craft chocolate making literally starts with the cacao bean processed into chocolate through roasting and grinding whereas the traditional chocolate model of ‘chocolatiering’ starts with a finished chocolate which is then processed further into confection. The cacao bean never enters that process. Most of the McGuire Chocolate Company’s bars consist of just three ingredients – cacao beans, cane sugar and cacao butter.
It was fascinating listening to McGuire share his knowledge and expertise about the bean to bar process. He said, “Cacao beans are at the heart of everything we do as a chocolate maker. They are referred to as beans, but they are actually the seeds of a tropical fruit. The fruit have a wide array of genetic diversity, which when combined with the knowledge and skill of farmers and post-harvest fermenters creates a little tiny wonder that is just bursting with a full palate of flavor and nutrients.” Through the roasting and grinding process, the McGuire’s try to highlight and enhance the unique characteristic of each cacao bean origin they work with. They grind each batch for 6 days or more (24 hours a day) in order to obtain the consistency and flavour that they aim for.
When the McGuire’s first started, their model was to work with as many cacao origins as they could get hands on to create dark chocolate tasting flights. This model served two purposes. The first was to educate the consumer on the supply chain and natural variations of chocolate and the second was to hone their skills and core competencies in chocolate making by narrowly focusing on cacao beans and dark chocolate.
Today the company has a balanced and simplified lineup. Their production funnel supports seven origins of cacao beans that make up 18 chocolate bars. They rotate a handful of origins every 12-18 months but have a core group of cacao beans that are always on hand.
The McGuire’s primarily work with two distributors, Meridian Cacao and Uncommon Cacao. They also direct trade with the Nahua farm in Costa Rica. “We are lucky to work with distributors who are regularly engaged with each origin and help to provide a transparent connection for our supply chain,” McGuire boasts. Craft chocolate making promotes a happy and sustainable supply chain ensuring the fair compensation of all participants, which is of great importance to chocolate lovers with an appreciation for integrity in a top-quality food product. It is the traceability to the farm-level which communicates the high standards of accountability.
The McGuire Chocolate Company launched in November of 2016. They struggled a bit with the naming of their business and ended up coining it after their last name. They couldn’t envision any other name that would withstand the test of time and that they would still love after many years. Their beloved chocolate bar lineup, affectionately named after their cat Hank, tells the story of chocolate through the tales of their adventurous kitty. Names of bars include Señor Hankito, Big Booty Hank and Buccaneer Hank – to name a few.
Spotlight asked McGuire why they decided to scale their business in Atlantic Canada when the first few years of groundwork were laid in Calgary. McGuire shared that the couple was looking for a location that was close to the United States border to help with exporting, that they wanted to own the building where they operated to promote long-term stability, and that they looked to open a storefront in a place that had strong existing tourism. It was also important to the McGuire’s that they find a location that would enable them to reduce or eliminate a commute so more time could be spent raising their kids and enjoying quality time with family.
After 18 months of property searching from coast-to-coast, the McGuire’s selected the beautiful town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, a quaint tourist destination by the sea to live and work. The community embraced them immediately and McGuire said, “We are forever grateful for the warmth and support of the community. We instantly knew we were part of something special here.”
Doors to the shop opened in 2019 and now operates with core staff consisting of a fulltime baker/chocolate maker, one part time barista and Mark, Victoria and mother Carol. The McGuire’s staffing approach is to find good people and give them the space to figure out their workflow. They ask that their employees work hard and add value to the business, but it is very important to the family that their employees are happy and contributing in a manner that suites them. Mark, Victoria and Carol all bring unique skill sets to the business and as Mark jokes with Victoria, “every day in the factory is a date.”
If you get the chance, you must stop in to visit the McGuire Chocolate Shop. It is there that you can enjoy your daily hot beverage, satisfy your chocolate cravings, and soak in the aromas of delicious freshly baked bread.
Also, be sure to admire the company’s packaging. The product is made in small batches, so each bar is packaged with care by hand and cacao origin is transparent on each label. What is most admirable however is the artwork created for the brand. In Calgary, an artist named Jim Little created the pencil sketches that decorate the Hank series of bars. Since opening in St. Andrews, Kristofer Parley from Victoria has created watercolour imagery for the McGuire’s that depicts cacao farms, aspects of their chocolate operation and local landscapes. The McGuire’s are proud to have contracted artwork that “has a unique and relatable identity while supporting fellow artisans doing what they love for a living.” The eye-catching designs stand out on shelves.
Although the McGuire Chocolate Company has enjoyed success in the craft chocolate business, they have also faced challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic created a bit of a shock to sales and tourism at first, but the McGuire’s were committed to “keeping grounded on our critical path, to weather the turbulence and keep a steady eye on the future.” They have used these obstacles as an opportunity to evolve. Existing investments in online and mobile infrastructure allowed for a timely transition to increased online shopping and curbside pickup options. They are also lucky to have serviced a new clientele, Maritimers who have chosen to vacation closer to home.
The McGuire’s look forward to seeing what their business will become when “the world returns to normal.” McGuire shares that there are “cool things in the product pipeline” as origins from Madagascar, Vietnam and Tanzania have recently become available and there are also some unique limited release bars to follow.
When trade shows start to run again, the McGuire’s will embrace the opportunity to attend chocolate related events to “absorb the vibrations of the industry.” Trade shows allow crafters to learn new things and connect with their peers and other stakeholders. The industry is small, and chocolate makers like the McGuire’s are open to sharing so that they can “nourish the global chocolate making community.”
They also look forward to continuing to give back to their community. Mark McGuire is the treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce and finds it is a good way to stay in touch with the local business community. He has his finger on the pulse of the ebb and flow of the challenges and opportunities that their fellow business owners face.
We at Spotlight also look forward to watching as their business continues to grow and evolve. We wish the McGuire’s every success, as their story and their chocolates are truly delightful.
To learn more about the amazing products that the McGuire Chocolate Company has to offer or to place an online order for their sensational treats, visit mcguirechocolate.com, you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org you can also follow them on their Facebook (@mcguirechocolate) or Instagram (@mcguirechocolate) pages. You can also drop in and see them the next time you are in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, they would love to see you.
by Christi Rideout