||February 7, 2000
Duo cultivates chocolate factory dream
By SUSAN PALMER
Some dreams are sweeter than others - living on a tropical island, say, or starting your own business, or having all the chocolate you could possibly hope to consume.
For a mega-sweet dream, you combine all of the fantasies into one. With a little luck and lot of work, you get to live it, which is what Mark Green and Doug Browne are doing at the end of a rambling lane west of Cottage Grove.
The two have built themselves a chocolate factory in a workshop behind a warm little house in the country. After months of trial and error, they have begun producing a complex-flavored dark chocolate candy reminiscent of the finest Europe has to offer.
But that's just part of the dream. Now that they've got the intricacies of machinery and process figured out, they're boxing up their chocolate factory and shipping it to the Caribbean nation of Grenada where they hope it will be a boon to the island economy, not to mention themselves.
For entrepreneurs, Green and Browne, both 33, are pretty laid back.
"It seemed like a fun challenge," Browne said while sitting in the duo's sunny workshop as four pet emus pecked gently at the windows. "At first we didn't know where it would take us."
The two met six to seven years ago, Green said. They discovered a mutual affinity for tinkering and similar interests in appropriate technology. Together, they built an electric car and then a solar-powered steam generator.
They called those projects "pure research," just seeing what they could build together for the pure joy of doing it.
But Green also had another love and another dream cooking away on the back burner.
He'd become smitten with the lush tropical island of Grenada in his early 20s.
"If not in love, I was certainly intrigued by the vibe of the people," Green said. He found himself returning year after year to the tiny island, making friends with locals who welcomed him and put him up in their homes.
"There were sweet and kind of wise-ass, and they made fun of me, not in a bad way, but just because they love to laugh," he said.
Grenada is a wondrously rich island in spices: nutmeg, cinnamon and mace, to name a few. It is also rich in the cacao trees that produce the beans from which chocolate is made.
As the two men, both very bright college dropouts, worked on the car and the steam generator, Green's love of Grenada seeped into Browne's world.
In 1998, the two visited the island together and there the dream of the Grenada Chocolate Company was officially born.
The beauty of their plan, they say, is its smallness. They are not out to create some mammoth chocolate-making enterprise, just a little chocolate factory using appropriate technology for the local environment and producing enough chocolate to supply the steady stream of tourists who visit the island, which is about 90 miles north of the coast of Venezuela.
Because electricity on the island is expensive, supplied by diesel generators, they've opted to power their small factory with solar energy.
They've invested $50,000 - money supplied mostly by Browne. They believe that staying small and simple will also make it possible for the business to become profitable fairly quickly.
But profitability isn't their main focus. Fairness, they say, matters more. "Our vision is to create an appropriate technology chocolate factory, pay farmers a nonexploitive price for their beans," Green said.
In the beginning, though, they expect their workers to be mostly themselves and co-owner Edmond Brown, a Grenadian, and good friend of the pair.
Turning cocoa beans into chocolate is no easy process.
First, the cocoa beans must be fermented, then dried, then the husks separated from the cocoa meat, which is ground into a thick peanut-buttery liquid, that is 50 percent cocoa butter.
Some of the liquefied cocoa is separated out, the butter pressed from it and then added back into the sugar-sweetened mixture which is conched, a three-day process of mashing the liquefied cocoa and sugar under a heavy steel roller.
The conching gives chocolate its smoothness and helps the volatile natural acids evaporate.
After that, the chocolate is tempered, which helps keep it from melting and also gives the chocolate bar its "snap" when broken.
The tempered chocolate is then poured into a mold, cooled, wrapped and ready for sale.
Green and Browne built their own roaster and grinder. They found an antique mixing machine for sale in New York and had it shipped to Cottage Grove.
They built their own conch, tempering box and chocolate press, much of it from steel scrounged locally.
They built the machinery here, where they had access to cheap materials, Green explained. "You can't get this stuff in Grenada," he said.
Now that they know everything works, it will be boxed up and shipped via truck and boat to the island, sometime in March.
They're not there yet, but they're well on the way. Not bad for a couple of dreamers.
For more information about their efforts, visit their Web site at www.grenadachocolate.com.